Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy New Year!

Whether or not it's a new year to you, too, make it a good one. Can't hurt!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coming soon from Seth Godin

“One of the reasons Seth Godin is so influential is that he’s a very, very good writer,” says Richard Pachter, the business-book columnist for the
Miami Herald.

“Writing with clarity isn’t easy. Expressing big ideas simply is a challenge, but Seth manages to find shortcuts to readers’ synapses that minimize processing time.” (

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thinking about lunch

I've seen this in every office I've ever worked — and I bet you have, too.

There's a kitchen or a break area with a refrigerator. People keep their lunches in the refrigerator. At least half put their insulated lunch bags in there, too.

In the refrigerator.

Their insulated lunch bags.

In the refrigerator.

In the cold refrigerator.

Their insulated lunch bags.

What? What are they thinking?

Their lunch is in an insulated bag. Why put it in the refrigerator? It makes no sense.

I used to point this out, but now I just let it slide. (Why make them feel stupid?)

Me, I just pop one of those sealed frozen things in my insulated lunch bag and put it in my desk when I get to work.

The point is not that I'm so smart. I just gave the matter a little bit of thought.

The people who put their insulated lunch bag in a refrigerator could figure this out, too; they just didn't think about it.

Marketers prey on people who don't think.

So do politicians.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Billion Here, A Billion There

Authors offer tips on avoiding business disasters
Past business mistakes can help others avoid a similar future.

Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last Twenty-Five Years. Paul B. Carroll, Chunka Mui, Portfolio. 320 pages.

It always cracks me up when I'm reminded that hindsight is not only 20/20 but is often magnified like the Hubble Telescope, especially in business books. Whenever a spectacularly disastrous deal is recounted, the warning signs are never subtle and always appear in big, red, bold, capital letters, usually in flashing neon, accompanied by ear-splitting sirens, wailing horns and thunderous timpani.

It's amazing! How did anyone make such stupid moves? That they were doomed to failure was just so obvious! There was no way they could possibly succeed. The executives who came up with the ideas, proposed, funded, supported, managed and perpetuated them were colossal dunderheads who should have known better. Big duh!

If only that were the case, but it's pretty much the same deal with this new book by Carrol and Mui. The proprietary document fax service Zapmail by FedEx, Motorola's Iridium project, the funeral-home consolidation strategy of the Loewen Group, Ames Department Stores' acquisition of Zayre's, Kodak's stubborn refusal to get into digital photography, Sears' patchwork-quilt assemblage of disparate business -- on and on, all of these hugely ill-conceived and poorly executed ventures and more are recounted, deconstructed and criticized. And all seemed pretty obviously doomed to failure, at least in retrospect.

To be fair, in some cases, business success is like comedy; timing is everything. It's also very similar to real estate; location, location, location. The monumental failures are accompanied with an extra-large helping of hubris, regardless of these factors. Additionally, these projects were almost always funded with OPM (churlishly pronounced "opium"), which stands for Other People's Money, according to Carrol and Mui. So there's that, too.

The authors present their information well enough, though the text rambles a bit as they leap back and forth and back again (and forth again and again) from company to company and meltdown to disaster. Had they stuck with a single firm to illustrate one or two points or organized their material a bit differently, I think it might have made for a better experience or at least a more coherent and comprehensible one.

Fortunately, after the multiple horror stories, there's a meaty and multifaceted analysis of the decision-making process, which is well worth the price of admission.

In fact, given the benefit of hindsight, the authors might want to take another shot at constructing this book. They might begin with this section, then break off into specific studies of each preventive strategy relative to a single firm's drastic mistakes and how companies could have avoided, neutralized or fixed each disaster. It's a pity that the best part of their work is buried in the back, but maybe this judgment is just another benefit of hindsight.

Regardless, Billion Dollar Lessons is a good collection of cautionary tales and a worthwhile repository of wisdom that might help companies avoid the fate of those chronicled within.

Of course, they'll need to read it before the fact!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thanking your customers

Derek Jeter shows how it's done.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marlins: The Punchline

Continuing from Thursday... So I had a nice time at the game on Saturday, though they lost. But I had fun with my brother and my friends and their beautiful daughters.

More problems getting straight with my tickets, but I'm not going to drone on with the details.

Well, maybe a little.

I wound up downgrading my tickets because the seats were more expensive that night since it was a "Super Saturday" with entertainment after the game; Lou Gramm of Foreigner, who also sang the anthem.

The very nice lady in the ticket office tried to take care of me, but her butthead supervisor refused to let her do an upgrade exchange, so I wouldn't have to pay extra. No. Can't. Won't. Whatever.

When I said I didn't want to pay additional and I was willing to be downgraded to less expensive seats, he wanted ME to pay the difference.

The nice lady had to explain it to him a couple of times. So I took the tix, lost a few bucks and thanked her profusely — and said that I understood how it was to work with stupid
people. Her smile was one of the brightest I'd seen in a long time.

Oh, and the punchline? They announced during the game that it was... Fan Appreciation Day!

Go Marlins!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Microsoft Comedy

Seinfeld didn't work out, so how about bringing back Ricky Gervais?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marketing Marlins

The Florida Marlins are having a pretty good season on the field. In the stands, not so much. One recent game had an estimated 600 people in attendance. And estimates usually run high.


(Looks like they're going to get a new stadium soon, in a geographically remote area, so we'll see how that goes.)

Their final home-stand ends this week. I
bought eight "flex vouchers" so I'd have the "right" to purchase tickets to see the Marlins play the NY Yankees during spring training. (Love the Marlins, but have followed the Yanks forever.)

Several time during the season, I'd get calls from guys in the Marlins ticket department to see if everything was "all right" and if I "needed anything."

Well, finally I did, so I called to see if I could exchange my eight vouchers for two or three "better" seats.

Nope. One voucher for one ticket, plus I'd have to pay additional to upgrade.

Fine. But they can barely fill the place. Wouldn't it make sense to make me, an actual customer, happy? What would they lose with an even exchange, so there's no money lost on either end?

Instead of, y'know, pissing me off. And having me blog about it.

Not master of that domain

Jerry Seinfeld has ben canceled, this time by Microsoft. The marketing campaign devised by South Florida ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky that featured the comedian and long-time Mac user was yanked after two strange ads.

The new campaign is said to feature an actor who resembles John Hodgman, the "PC" in Apple's ads.

How apropos!

Buy low, sell high

The Peebles Path to Real Estate Wealth: How to Make Money in Any Market. R. Donohue Peebles and J.P. Faber. Wiley. 216 pages

Disclaimer: This is a book review, not a personal profile or a breaking news story. If you are interested in reading more about R. Donohue Peebles, use the Google! As a developer in South Florida and other communities, he's received quite a bit of coverage.

In reading this guide to making money in real estate, shards of Peebles's curriculum vitae emerge, though that's far from its focus. Still, there's a bit of a narrative thread that wends through it, though each occurrence offers a brief glimpse and no more.

Essentially most of the book is a prosaic and painstaking primer on the fundamentals of real estate selection, evaluation, negotiation and financing, then buying and selling the property.

If you weren't already aware that the idea is to buy low and sell high, you'll find Peebles's lessons quite valuable. But most sapient and sentient beings understand that, and if they've read any real estate book -- or bought or sold a home - have learned this fundamental principle.

But like the redoubtable son of Rich Dad Robert Kiyosaki, Peebles advises to pursue undervalued properties and negotiate fiercely with lenders, owners, government officials or whomever holds the keys (literally or figuratively). Of course, as real-estate prices plummet, finding these bargain properties, according to Peebles, isn't too tough. All you need is cash. Or if you don't have any cash, good credit. Or if you don't have good credit well, more about that in a bit.

Peebles (and his co-author, J.P. Faber) write clearly and simply, and with some humor (though no knee-slappers) and drop plenty of references to South Florida, which might aid anyone who wants to annotate this book with footnotes detailing the author's achievements. Interestingly, there's just a single unindexed reference to fellow South Florida developer and fellow author Jorge Perez -- as a subject of litigation. Though Donald Trump is mentioned, as Peebles gleefully strips the varnish off the Trump legend by pointing out how the blustery serial failure is popularly perceived as a success -- a source of wisdom, even, for erstwhile apprentices, while defaulting on debts and executing other abortive and bone-headed deals.

There's also an interesting analysis of the real-estate glut caused by bureaucratic bumbling and incompetence in the wake of the savings and loan collapse in the late '70s and early '80s. Peebles, though, was able to rise above the chaos and managed to profit by being in the right place and boldly going where others could or would not.

Throughout the text, Peebles also touches on his various personal residences, their asking prices, how he acquired them and what he paid, as a means of illustrating his instructions and illuminating his methods. It's interesting though not especially compelling.

The best part of the book, though, is tucked away in the back, as Peebles instructs prospective investors to divest themselves of most inhibitions and traditional proscriptions against amorality in dealing with private and public institutions. Though it's been widely reported that mortgage money is tight and that some institutions are now requiring as much as 40 percent down, Peebles preaches boldness. Seems to have worked for him!

published 9/8/08 in The Miami Herald

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Identify a need

No one ever steals my lunch (I'll explain that one down the road), but if you ever have that problem, here's solution by Sherwood Forlee.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Last gig?

Jill Greenberg was hired to photograph Sen. McCain for The Atlantic Monthly.

She also took a few shots for herself and, er, embellished 'em.

Wonder if she'll get hired for another job like this any time soon. Or maybe she's get other kinds of gigs.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Body Language

Just sayin'.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last Todd Taste

"Bardo." From Arena.

It's been kicks, but you're on your own.

Be sure to buy a copy when it comes out. (That's my review.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coming soon

New book from the author of
IBM and the Holocaust, Internal Combustion etc.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Sure. Why not?

It's an excellent and vivid metaphor.

Lipstick on a pig.

How Heinlein dealt with readers' letters

this on the great, linked to Kevin Kelly's fine site.

It's a customizable form letter the great author Robert A. Heinlein (or his wife Ginny or their staff) used to respond to fan mail.

Just click on the image to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Billionaire Blueprint

Here's a review of a book by a local Miami developer. The image below was sent to me by a reader,
Harry Emilio Gottlieb, who "annotated" the cover.

Powerhouse Principles: The Billionaire Blueprint for Real Estate Success. Jorge Perez. Celebra. 288 pages.

If Jorge Perez were not a successful Miami-based developer, I'd probably never open this book. No knock on him, but most tomes professing ''this is how I did it; this is how you can do it'' are boring and loaded with self-righteous pontification, glad-handing, name-dropping and other effluvia.

Though reading Perez's book was initially a bit of a rough slog, I hung in there and survived. Actually, it wasn't that bad. (And it's probably worth mentioning that this is a review of a book, and not of a man, his reputation or accomplishments.)

Perez describes himself as a salesman, and he's likely a terrific talker, so the text seems like it was dictated, then transcribed and edited. That's good and bad. Most of Perez's verbal idiosyncrasies and repetitions were probably excised, though several may remain, as the editing is a little loose. Regardless, once one adjusts to its rhythm, it's a breezy read, but tighter editing and the imposition of a bit more structure would have improved it.

As the book stands, it's hard to see a consistent thread or narrative spine, other than Perez's positive tone. Indeed, the author's enthusiasm for his profession and his role in it is palpable, and he obviously delights in offering an expansive review of his projects and the wisdom he gleaned from them.

I enjoyed reading about efforts to develop properties in areas that conventional wisdom had determined as being unworthy, like Little Havana, or unlikely, like Brickell. But I didn't see anything that was terribly revelatory or newsworthy.

Regarding the title, as a ''blueprint,'' it's a bit like the prep for a rhinoceros stew recipe; ''first, catch a rhino.'' Uh, right. While it may be possible, as Perez declares, for almost anyone to achieve what he has, in reality few can and fewer do.

As a set of principles, the text may ramble a bit, but the author is very consistent in his admonitions and exhortations for conducting business in an honest, ethical and upright manner. He also advocates smart things like striving to create a perception of value, establishing personal connections with vendors and business partners by leaving some money on the table, and preparing meticulously before making any offer.

Most, if not all, of the advice is pretty bulletproof and unimpeachable, but it's doubtful that he would recommend doing something illegal or unethical in print.

In real estate, the most important thing is location, and in investments, it's probably timing. Given the current moribund state of the market, it would have been worthwhile to have Perez's insights on this issue, especially for ways investors might salvage projects for which financing has evaporated or, worse, situations where they've become ''upside down,'' owing more than the property's current market value.

For real-estate investors and professionals who track Perez's projects, this book will prove worthy of attention, and perhaps even inspire some annotation. But for those of us whose holdings consist of their family residences — in partnership with a bank — it may prove somewhat less riveting.

Published 5/5/08 in The Miami Herald

Monday, September 8, 2008

What's a maverick? Origin of a brand

In common parlance, it's a rebel or someone who goes their own way.

My pal Brenda told me about this NPR feature that gave the derivation of the term "maverick."

Seems there was a guy named "Maverick" (just like there was one named "Boycott" — didja know that?).

Samuel Maverick didn't want to brand his cattle (it was Texas in the 1800s and he had cattle, naturally) because he said it was cruel to the animals.

But other ranchers accused him of just wanting to claim all the unbranded cattle as his own.

Interesting, in light of the fact that one presidential candidate is trying to co-opt the other's theme, "Change."

So John McCain IS a maverick.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another taste of Todd

," from the forthcoming album, Arena.

Deep Purple: Call your office.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More Music Biz Lessons

Wisdom from The Turtles' Mark and Howard (a/k/a Flo & Eddie).

Kids, don't try this at home... or anywhere.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Books & Books and... Movies?

Miami bookseller Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books is renowned and celebrated as an innovator and pioneer in a business that's either evolving or dying. Take your pick.

He's evolving, though, as confirmed by a recent report that he's involved in shepherding the adaptation of a book into a film.

Here's a profile I wrote last year, coinciding with Books & Books' 25th anniversary and the annual Miami Book Fair, which originally appeared on

Outside the Box
By Richard Pachter
Florida books retailer carves out niche market

Big Box Retailers are also known as Category Killers, and for good reason. The proliferation of Home Depot and Lowe's has driven the neighborhood hardware store nearly to extinction. Sporting goods, toys, housewares, bedding — you name it; giant super-stores replaced neighborhood shops in malls and shopping centers all over the country. Smaller, locally owned retailers still exist, but in some categories, they are nearly nonexistent. Still, a few have managed to not only hang on, they've managed to carve out a niche by doing what the Big Box stores can't: provide more personalized service or a specialized or unique line of products, or interact with the community in an intimate way.

In many communities, few independent booksellers remain in the wake of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Books A-Million. In fact, there are so few independent booksellers, each time one of these venerable institutions bites the dust, Publisher's Weekly, the book industry trade publication, notes its passing.

Yet some independent stores remain open, and a handful even thrive. In Coral Gables, near Miami, Books & Books, a diverse bookstore, is a mandatory stop for authors on tour in the Southeast. Its founder, Mitchell Kaplan, 52, is hailed as a visionary for bucking the trend by creating a successful bookselling environment that reflects the diversity of the community. He recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its opening with an all-star gathering of more than 60 authors at a dinner to benefit the local library.

"I never planned to become a merchant prince," joked Kaplan in a recent interview. "I'm not even sure I would even be a merchant at all if I weren't a bookseller. But having a place that is part of the community was always something I wanted to do. Creating something that people love and that brings them together means a lot to me. And to do so with books is even better."

How has Kaplan managed to stay in business, given the proliferation of competition from the big chains? What's his plan?

"Nothing of what I've done is by a business plan," he told South Florida Sun-Sentinel books editor Chauncey Mabe. "I was an English major who didn't know what sales tax was before I got into this business. Basically I've learned this business just by doing. I had a sense of purpose and a sense of mission and a sense of passion. I had a very strong sense of what an independent bookstore ought to be. That's what informed everything I've done for the past 25 years."

For someone with no plan, Kaplan's done extremely well. In addition to his Coral Gables location, he also has stores in Miami Beach and trendy Bal Harbour, and Kaplan will soon open a new store in the Caribbean on Camana Bay, an upscale retail and residential project on Grand Cayman island. That joint venture, Kaplan said, is the way to go. "I'm not an avaricious person and have no interest in opening a bunch of stores for the sake of business alone. It has to make sense and add something to the community."

Author Russell Banks recently
wrote.: "Sure, all bookstores, whether chains or independents, provide a service; they sell books (and associated products, including espresso and whole grain muffins and scones). But the rare ones, like Books & Books … can make a city into a place where you want to live. ... And it's not about the books or the associated products — we can find those most anywhere in America nowadays. It's about the specific community of writers and readers that has been nourished and sustained by Books & Books over the last 25 years, the folks who gather there to talk shop and exchange gossip and real estate tips and recommend titles new and old that may never appear on the Best Seller lists. One likes to think that a city has at least one place where its collective wisdom resides, where its imagination and self-knowledge are protected and shared with anyone who comes through the gate looking for them. For twenty-five years now, for those of us who love Miami, that place has been Books & Books, and the keeper of the gate has been Mitchell Kaplan."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

RIP Don LaFontaine, the King of VO

Here's a a shot of Don and the Entertainment Tonight hosts, along with ET announcer (and my pal) Randy Thomas.

And a great, fun video from a few years back.

Weekly Biz Bookage

Harnessing power of the crowd
Aggregating the intelligence inherent in amateur enthusiasm and professional knowledge leads to innovation.

Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. Crown Business. Jeff Howe. 320 pages.

Jeff Howe's new book belongs in the same section of your library as The Wisdom Of Crowds, The Starfish and the Spider, Wikinomics, Small Pieces Loosely Joined and Seth Godin's forthcoming Tribes. The subject is group intelligence, or as Howe, a writer for Wired and other publications, calls it, "crowdsourcing.''

It's not the greatest name in the world, but it'll do. More accurately, it's ''aggregated intelligence'' since it's really the product of a bunch of individuals and not a ''crowd.'' And it's at its most powerful when disparate and diverse elements and interests come together (virtually) to solve or just work on a single issue.

But nomenclature aside, Howe is an interesting writer and fine reporter. The text follows his intellectual curiosity as he seeks ways that a diverse multitude acts in concert to predict winners of political contests, solve scientific challenges, distribute music, design clothing and conduct all manner of commerce.

It's interesting to me, because some of his findings are decidedly counterintuitive. For example, non-experts in a variety of fields — engineering, for example — can find solutions to problems that may elude dedicated professionals. In many professions, including journalism, debates about professionals and amateurs abound. Howe establishes that amateur enthusiasts have historically made major contributions to their respective fields. In many instances, their work surpassed the efforts of dedicated professionals. But then, as now, professionals resisted, ridiculed and attempted to devalue the work of nonprofessionals.

Howe writes: "Although the technologies behind this latest surge in amateur activity are new, the impulse itself has a venerable history. More than a century of a professionalized academy has helped obscure the amateur roots of the arts and sciences, which evolved through the accomplishments of men and women who wore the mantle of amateur with great pride, and would have considered being called a professional an insult.''

I hasten to add, though, that enthusiasm doesn't magically impart knowledge and competence. But it's a great start. In fact, among the examples of aggregated intelligence Howe cites is the analysis and summaries done by a ''crowd'' of volunteers who scrutinized Justice Department e-mails and memos, which resulted in Josh Marshall and his Talking Points Memo website ( being honored with the George Polk Award for Legal Reporting for its ''tenacious investigative reporting'' in uncovering the rampant politicization of the appointment and retention of U.S. attorneys by the Bush Administration, a conspiracy that had escaped the professional "mainstream media.''

Whether they're political bloggers, after-hours amateur computer researchers, virtual collaborators or fans, engaging the power and enthusiasm of these ''crowds'' is a challenge that many legacy companies like IBM, Procter & Gamble have embraced. And a growing number of new enterprises — YouTube, Facebook, iStock, Marketocracy — were built the same way.