Busted!

Finally. They got me. Not in the middle of the night as I often expected. But at the beach. In broad daylight. 4:06PM precisely. Guilty I am. Parking! Parking While Street Legal. It’s not a thing. I Googled it. Nevertheless, I’ve been specially selected to enjoy a $75 Penalty for Park District (of Highland Park) Parking Violation. My city sticker? Proudly displayed. Did I Park Like a Dick? Not hardly. Perfectly centered between the lines. I’ve been caught in the net of that scourge of mankind, law abiders. Singled out for my initial opposition to the Rosewood Beach improvements. Mocked for driving a 12 year old minivan. Ridiculed for daring to hit the beach on a weekday afternoon. It’s a pattern. They’re after me. I will resist. #MAGA

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VideOdyssey – 40th Anniversary

Videodyssey video, games and personal computersToday is the 40th anniversary of the opening of my first business, VideOdyssey. I was armed for competition with no business operation experience, seed capital from my bar mitzvah and a 5 page business plan.

I turned the key on Thursday, May 5, 1977 looked out the door at the empty sidewalk and said, “Hello World.” Or something to that effect. The silence was deafening. With additional keenless insight I had opened my little storefront in a new shopping center with only 1 other store, a hairdresser.

So there I was. No money. No experience and a lousy location. Good start.

I had the temerity to think that personal computers were going to be a big thing. My only problem is that there were no computers to sell.  No hardware. No software either. What there was was Pong. And Betamax.

The products were slim pickings. But to me the promise seemed great.  I wrote in my plan:

The products offered by VideOdyssey will provide consumers with an unprecedented control over what information and entertainment they receive in the home, when it is shown and its frequency.”

At this time the non-existent personal computer industry consisted of hobbyists on what used to be called the West Coast. Silicon was definitely in play for computer construction, but they hadn’t named a valley after it. Apple was in the garage.

The gateway drugs were video recorders and video games but the target was the personal computer.  In the plan I wrote:

“…TV games are the tip of the proverbial iceberg….Game technology, which uses …”smart” mircoprocessor chips, is the harbinger of domestic computer systems. (note: how quaint).

My nod to the Internet was

“consumers who are being eased into “anytime” banking, elaborate pocket calculators and videogames will readily accept the interactive capability available through their home computer.”Steve Jobs business card

I survived my first year holiday season with the season’s top hit, the Fairchild Video Game but still hunting for my first computer to sell. In January I went to the Consumer Electronic Show and met Steve Jobs selling his 2 kilobyte, color Apple computer with built-in keyboard. After sending him the Sony TV he bartered against my first Apple dealer purchase I remember writing the tiny firm and saying that the computer, “would make a good step up from my video games.” Guess so.

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Surreal is 2016 Word of the Year

“Marked by the intense irrationality of a dream.”

Surreal is Word of the Year

Meriam-Webster names Surreal as Word of the Year.

Yes, 2016 was most certainly that. And that is why dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster has named “surreal” the word of the year.

Alert readers of this blog, and I know there are a few (well, actually, very few), will note that I am dedicated here to commenting on the surreal. Riffing on what is real and what is unreal is fairly easy. It either is or it isn’t. But capturing the surreal is more elusive – the intense irrationality of a dream. So elusive that I’ve been tongue-tied and writer-blocked – mouth shaped in an OMG and hands frozen above the keyboard. With the surreal election of donald trump, this year has devolved not into an irrational dream but more like a nightmare. And not one from which we will quickly wake, shower off the dried sweat of anxiety and get on with our day. No, this nightmare has only begun and I anticipate that surreal will most certainly become real and, in doing so, spiral into the unreal. Surreal indeed.

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Entrepreneurs and Students of Business Will Love Chaos Monkeys

I recently read this recently published book and thought it was great. Not flawless. But insightful. You may be interested.

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon ValleyChaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful story at multiple levels. What begins as a humorous lark surrounding the funding shenanigans of a small tech start-up evolves into a corporate drama involving Facebook on the eve of its IPO and shortly after. Author Martinez is the epicenter of this tale, offering an unblinking 360-degree view of his work and life according to him. In fact, while some might believe there is TMI about his admittedly sordid life, more accurately it underscores the entrepreneur’s mantra that life is work and work is life.

Martinez is a funny guy, inventing some crude as well as poignant metaphors to make his points. (e.g. “A founder should prefer to be arrested for public homosexual, pedophilic bestiality than to have his or her company ignored by the media…”) And his points are many. He shares the aftermath of investment; the winners, losers, options, dilutions and taxes that follow. We witness the corporate infighting for status and recognition in the effort to advance closely held beliefs in a business that is being invented before our eyes -as well as the effort to secure a place in that business hierarchy.

For many the book will bog down in the detail of data mining, targeting and ad serving technology. See, I lost you already! For me, who has used these tools on the buying side since the earliest days, I found it both fascinating as well as vindicating. That is, I wasn’t as stupid as I thought, the tools really were that bad. And therein is a lesson that can apply more broadly than the examples in the book. A great read while the examples are fresh and the players still active. Potentially will have legs as a historical perspective and business object lesson.

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Cohen, Martin David

Martin David Cohen 1941 - 2015Marty Cohen, 74, passed away on November 18, 2015 at Brookdale North Independent Senior Living  in Boynton Beach, Florida from complications of Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He was born in the shadow of World War II on August 16, 1941, the first child of Lee Abrams Cohen and Jack Aaron Cohen in Chicago, Illinois.

Marty attended May School in Chicago, Hatch School in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois. He received a BA from Northwestern University and his MBA from the University of Michigan. Marty became a Certified Public Accountant working in the financial industry for public accounting firms as a partner and financial investment and trading firms. He married Linda Lee Birmingham in 1963 and had two children, Barry Philip (Karen) and Jay Elliot  (Carrie) and enjoyed the company of his dogs, Max & Benny.

Marty was a collector from his earliest days focusing first on coins & stamps,  graduating to American Flyer S Gauge Trains that filled the walls of his basement in his home in Northbrook, IL and eventually focusing on rare Middle Eastern stamps, passport insignia and other esoterica.

In addition to his immediate family, Marty is survived by his brother Howard M. (Jeri) Cohen, S. Sonny (Rena) Cohen and granddaughters Nicole and Jillian.

Marty was cremated and no funeral service was held. For those who wish, a suggested donation can be made to The Michael J. Fox Foundation which is is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.

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Toys R Us Taints Brand with Anti-Environment Ad

TRU

Outdoors? No thanks. I’ll take the plastic gun.

Just as the critically important holiday season kicks off, Toys R Us has released a thoughtless, boneheaded and controversial video that portrays environmental education as boring and features a child sighing with pleasure as he fingers the trigger of his plastic gun. Truth is incredibly stranger than fiction. I couldn’t make this scenario up.

Toys R Us is on the precipice of its most significant quarter. Why take the risk? I ask myself. Why would Toys R Us produce and distribute – as the introduction to their seasonal #WishinAccomplished campaign – a video that is alienating a significant portion of their market. I am seeking that answer.

Toys R Us perpetuates toy preference stereotypes

Boys like telescopes. Don’t you know.

Leaving no icon unscathed, Toys R Us features an unenthusiastic “Ranger Brad”  – a forest ranger impersonator, ushering kids onto a “Meet the Trees Foundation” bus. Leaning laconically against a seat he sighs “I’m a big fan of trees, I don’t know if you can tell” this fraud preaches to inattentive kids about leaf identification as they, understandably, squirm and yawn in their seat. Suddenly the inauthentic Ranger sheds his garb and reveals himself as a smiling animated Toys R Us toy guy amidst wild euphoria erupting at the promise that the bus is detouring from an actual real life “in the field” field trip to the artificial turf of a Toys R Us store. Wow! “Screw that outdoor shit. I’m going to get me some toy.”

And girls like dolls. But nobody likes to be in the boring outdoors.

And girls like dolls. But nobody likes to be in the boring outdoors.

Cut to the grinning and out of control kids storming the aisles of Toys R Us where girls grab their dolls and boy’s their microscopes and, yes, their guns. Wow!

So what is Toys R Us telling us?

  • Being outside in nature is a boring thing
  • Forest rangers  and their ilk are nerds. We don’t want to be like them
  • Girls play with dolls
  • Boys do  stuff with telescopes
  • Guns in the hands of kids are part of playtime

Wow! Stereotypes and bad will abound. Why Toys R Us? Why would you do this?

On Thursday 10/31/13. An over-generous olive branch of a sort was sent by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) as an open letter. The letter calls out TrU and asks them to reconsider (as in not run) the video and to talk with them. On Wednesday 11/6/13, Forbes publishes “Reality Prank From Toys R Us Backfires With Women” And the Dallas Morning News published “Selling Toys at the Expense of Nature” calling it a “distressing message”. In the meantime, the Toys R Us Facebook page lights up with comments similar to “…Making a mockery of the outdoors like this is truly sad…” and “I felt sick when I saw that ad. So very sad.”

It is a sad error by Toys R Us. So incredibly avoidable in the pursuit of making their point. And all the more astonishing in their inaction and unresponsiveness to the backlash. But it can be fixed. It’s time for Toys R Us to disavow this promotion, issue an apology and, most important,  “show us the money” to grow environmental education for the kids who are also their customers. There are a great number of environmental funds that could use the encouragement & support of TrU. Boys, girls come on out to the great outdoors.

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Official Review of the New Hostess Cupcake

Hostess Cupcake Birthday Cake

At one of those significantly numbered birthdays, the birthday cake was an oversized Hostess cupcake.

After several nervous months in withdrawal, I celebrated the return of the Hostess Cupcake. But I was wary.

If the most recent company couldn’t make a go of their business with this perennial favorite, what would the new company do to the product to drive the bottom line? I mean this little cupcake hit the market in 1919 and has been gathering steam since then.  From 1988 when 400 million Hostess cupakes were sold until 2011 when Hostess sold over 600 million cupcakes, this product has been a serious cash cupcake. And then the company tanked? Nice job bozos.

So why do I care. Well, I have a Hostess Cupcake jones. If Hostess Cupcakes were alcohol, I’d have to be in a 12 step program. I started mainlining these cupcakes when I was ten and went to work with my dad at something like 7AM. He kept me busy with a Grape pop and a package of Hostess cupcakes (yes, two).

At one of my significant birthdays at which I hosted 60 guests, the cake was a giant Hostess Cupcake.

Need I go on?

So what do I think of this snack cake version of crystal meth? It’s ok.  Happy to have them back but…

First of all, all snack food has changed.  Mostly for the worse.  Honeymaid graham crackers taste like cardboard. Devilsfood cookies are approaching the size of a quarter and are simply disappointing. And don’t even get me started on how badly Keebler Chips suck.  The sad stories abound in the cookie aisle. Nutritionists have hounded snack producers to reduce & remove those tasty saturated fats. Whole grain has crowded out good old white flour. The argument? It’s better for you. I don’t get it. This is snack food not my sustenance. If I otherwise balance my diet, I want to eat my share of crap. It’s not to be.

But I’m really getting away from my topic. Let’s take a look at this appealing antichrist to a good healthy breakfast, the new Hostess Cupcake. What of it?

Smaller

Well, duh, the thing is smaller. I believe this shrinkage is part of a  trend that’s been going on for years. But V.x of this Hostess cupcake is most definitely smaller than V.(x-1).

Icing

There’s something different here. And it’s different wrong. First, the frosting is  like a bad toupée. Instead of a hard almost crackable layer, the icing is a goo. Others might call it chewy. Tasty to the tongue but of inconsequential texture in the mouth.  Worse, one was always happy to discover just enough of the icing on each cupcake that had dribbled down the side. This was like bonus. The taste you took before you invested yourself in the sensuous cake-frosting-filling of your first real bite.  I counted on that icing foreplay. But it’s gone. Today the icing sits neatly on top of the cupcake with only a taunting hint of its former slovenly hang-over-the-belt abundance.

Squiggles

Sloppy Hostess cupcake assembly includes 8th squiggle

I mean, come on! This 8th squiggle doesn’t even FIT on the cupcake.

Now all this might be ok except for one unforgivable: the squiggles. I’m sure there is not a quiz contestant who couldn’t hit the buzzer quickly when asked how many squiggles there are on a Hostess Cupcake.  For non-quiz contestants, the answer is 7. Or maybe the answer is now 8. The upgraded mass production of these mass produced cupcakes rolls off the assembly line with a clear hint of 8 squiggles. If for nothing else, that alone has ruined the product.

 The Rest

About the no-expiration-date white custard filling and the permafresh devilsfood cake I have no real pique.  They were always pretty artificial and I would argue it’s just the way I like them.

I’ll probably continue to buy and eat these Hostess cupcakes for the simple reason that they are part of my DNA.  But I would argue that as those of us who were weaned on the real thing enter our diabetic comas the Hostess cupcake bubble will deflate. Those kids who go to work with dad and get the grape pop and Hostess Cupcake bribe are part of the past.

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