Business, Innovation

StormWatch keeps your roof on your house

10.27.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on StormWatch keeps your roof on your house

One of the people I’ve gotten to know through TTI/Vanguard is Meredith Anzulis. Recently, she decided to strike out on her own and formed a new company called StormWatch. Effectively, for those of you who live in areas with high wind (think hurricanes,) you use the StormWatch roof mesh product to keep your roof where it belongs, on your house.

This is an innovative product that can help people, I like it. Good luck Meredith and the rest of the StormWatch crew. We’ll be looking for success stories after the next storm.

Ohio State’s 2006 record: 8-0 Next up: Minnesota 10/28
Tune: Stormy Weather by Etta James
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Business, Coastal Stuff

Investment Advice: Short Comcast

10.27.06 | Permalink | 7 Comments

As I’m sure many of you deal with large companies as a customer on a daily basis, this won’t be a surprising story. What I’d like to attempt to do is to alert those of you who work in such entities that seemingly good business policy can easily backfire, as in my experience with Comcast over the past month. For those of you unfamiliar with Comcast, it’s our incumbent local cable tv, internet, and nascent telephone company on the coast.

About a month ago, I wanted to access a new channel that appeared in the lineup to, surprise, watch an Ohio State football game. I tuned to the channel and much to my surprise, it said that access was not authorized. Surprised I say, because aside from an internet access customer I’m also a Digital Platinum all-everything cable customer. The way it works is aside from pay-per-view events, if there’s a channel, you get it. As you might expect, a premium price is also associated with that package, a price I have been willing to pay for the past 7 years because Comcast met their end of the bargain making new content available to me.

Predictably, I called Comcast customer service to inquire why I did not have access to this new content. It seems the business policy had changed and that new ala carte channels were now the norm. Thus, in addition to the king’s ransom I was paying for the “all everything package” I was now expected to layer content atop that base with additional monthly charges for each ala carte channel. I escalated through the call center seeking someone who could actually articulate and understand the position of a long standing customer paying for “all everything” having that change without warning and then being asked to pay more for the everything that was supposed to come in the package.

Alas, Comcast is good a shielding the corporate policy wonks from customers…At that time, I inquired if there was a new “all everything” package. No is the answer to that. The only way to get the content is to sign up for ala carte channels. So, I informed them at that time that they left me no choice but to explore other options and act upon them. The customer service director was fine with that acknowledging it was my right to do so as a consumer. Very little time or effort was spent in attempting to convince me that there was a solution to this problem, it was a simple hide behind corporate policy and you’re screwed kind of experience.

Since there aren’t competing cable companies available here, I started looking at internet content (not there yet) and satellite cable companies, of which there are two, Dish and DirecTV. Either of them would have worked, but one of them, DirecTV, had exactly the package with the content I desired. So, after reading the horror stories of customer support and contracts, I signed up with my eyes open (after all, these companies are really no different than Comcast.) The sign up and installation went without a hitch and I had access to the content I wanted at a price that is 2/3 of what I was paying Comcast.

I then called Comcast to cancel my cable service, that’s where the next bit of stupidity begins. They are now trying to save me as a cable subscriber, after I’ve signed on to the new service and they run down the litany of why cable is superior to satellite (it’s still early days on the new service, but as yet, I see no difference in quality of service between the two products.) When it’s clear that I’m not going to be moved from the decision, they drop the bomb shell: “In that case, your internet access speed will drop by 33% and your internet access price will increase by 50%.” My jaw hit the floor, I asked if they wanted to keep my internet access business. Yes, they say. Then I ask, why would you think you would keep the business when you simultaneously decrease my service level and increase my cost. There is no answer to that other than it’s corporate policy. (Note, there is no technical reason for the service level to change.)

The Comcast policy is that you can’t have 6mb internet access service unless you subscribe to a cable package as well. The alternative to keep equivalent service levels is to undergo a 75% price hike from my current internet access charges. Needless to say, I’m now looking for an internet access company. I predict when I do make the change that they will try to save me again at that point…the point that is too late.

Let’s do some math. These aren’t the exact numbers, but are close enough and are agreeably round. This month, Comcast got $160 from me, $120 for cable and $40 for internet access. That comes out to $1920 per year. I had been a subscriber at roughly those rates for 7 years, or $13440 of revenue. Next month, I will pay Comcast $60 for degraded internet access and DirecTV will get $80. The month after that, Comcast will get $0 from me as a customer, though they would have had the opportunity to collect as much as $720/year from me as an internet access customer if only they weren’t trying to bully me into a bundle by degrading my internet quality of service while simultaneously increasing the price.

Who wins in this mess? DirecTV, a to-be-named internet access company, and me (less the hassle of having to make the changes.) When I returned the cable boxes etc. to the local office yesterday, the clerk said “switched to satellite?” I said yes, she said, “we’re losing our whole cable subscriber base here, I hope corporate will do something about this I’d like to keep my job.” There are around 25,000 people on the coast, apparently I was the 20th cancellation this week…

It all could have been avoided by actually talking to a relatively happy customer and simply meeting my needs. Good luck Comcast, if my experience is in any way typical, your policies will drive you out of business.

Ohio State’s 2006 record: 8-0 Next up: Minnesota 10/28
Tune: Give me one reason by Tracy Chapman
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$10.5B quarterly profit

10.26.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on $10.5B quarterly profit

Exxon reported $10.5B in profit for their most recent quarter of activity. Another quarterly report, another $10B profit, it’s good to be Exxon. That’s what they call in the business, real money…$1350 profit per second.

If just this quarter of Exxon’s profit was invested in renewable electricity generation using wind, it could fund approximately 10 GW of production leading to around 26 terawatt hours (TWh) (or 26,280,000,000,000 watt hours) of power and that could displace about 26 million kilotons of pollutants annually. This would require the investment of just ONE quarter’s profit.

The economic payback? About 13 years at current electric power prices ($30/MWh net of expenses.)

The lifetime profit? ~$11B.

The public relations and image value? Priceless.

Ohio State’s 2006 record: 8-0 Next up: Minnesota 10/28
Tune: I Still Miss Someone by Johnny Cash
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Ohio State Football

OSU/UMinn Preview

10.25.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on OSU/UMinn Preview

Saturday brings the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers to the Horseshoe in Columbus. Vegas has installed the Gophers as 27 point underdogs for the contest. Minnesota comes in with a 3-5 record having played Michigan tough 28-14 in one of those losses and Penn State in another handed to them in overtime by a bad officials call. Their last two games have been a disaster though losing 48-12 to Wisconsin and barely beating IAA North Dakota State at home, 10-9 last week.

You might recall last year UMinn participated in a track meet with the Bucks, rolling up 576 yards of offense and scoring 31 points only to lose 45-31 in the end. This team isn’t anywhere close to last year’s Minnesota team. Plus, their best player, TE Matt Speath, will be out due to injury for this game. Hmm. It’s played at Ohio State, against a team that can’t seem to generate offense (48th) nor seem to stop anyone on defense (66th,) that leads to a pretty grim prognosis for the Golden Gophers.

For the record, I still think this season we’ll see a close game where the weather, injuries, lack of focus make it tougher than it should be on paper to get the win. But it’s not going to be this week. The Bucks win this one going away 45-10.

Ohio State’s 2006 record: 8-0 Next up: Minnesota 10/28
Tune: Bang on the Drum All Day by Todd Rundgren
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OPEC, cartel extraordinaire

10.25.06 | Permalink | Comments Off on OPEC, cartel extraordinaire

If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny that many countries with interests counter to the US are profiting immensely from our energy demands. Let’s face it, our appetite for energy in the US is insatiable. As a result, we can as a country be held hostage by those who have the resources necessary to supply our habit and those same people may engage in outright hostile activities toward the US with very little worry of reprisal (with the present situation in Iraq.)

What is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) anyway? According to the OPEC website it is:

OPEC is a permanent, intergovernmental organization consisting of 11 developing nations, whose economies rely on oil export revenues. One of OPEC’s primary missions is to achieve stable oil prices, which are fair and reasonable to consumers and producers.

If we view the definition of cartel, it states: an international syndicate, combine, or trust formed especially to regulate prices and output in some field of business. Let’s be plain about this, OPEC was founded to be a cartel, has the mission of a cartel, and is a cartel beholden to no one, but it’s 11 member states. Curiously, if the consumers of it’s product were smart enough and had sufficient will to respond to the cartel in an organized and consistent way, they could bring it down. (Other than demanding that the cartel produce more and not charge too much for that right…..which is what these consumers do now.) Why does this cartel have so much power? Because it controls 78% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves (897 billion barrels.)

Just who are the 11 OPEC member states?

  • Algeria – Former French colony, now an unstable Arab state, 99% Sunni Muslim
  • Indonesia – Former Dutch colony and Japanese possession, now a populous, predominantly Muslim (88%) state
  • Iran – Formerly known as Persia, now a militant Islamic state suspected of supporting terrorism globally. Recently has asserted its right to join the nuclear nation club.
  • Iraq – We’ve all heard enough about Iraq over the past 16 years.
  • Kuwait – Former British colony, compartitively friendly post-liberation from Iraq, predominantly Muslim.
  • Libya – Former Ottoman and Italian colony, recently reformed renouncing terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, predominantly Muslim.
  • Nigeria – Former British colony, now an unstable African state, about 50% Muslim.
  • Qatar – Former British protectorate, now a stable Arab state, predominantly Muslim.
  • Saudi Arabia – A stable, Islamic monarchy. 100% Muslim.
  • United Arab Emirates – Former British protectorate, progressive state by middle-eastern standards, predominantly Muslim.
  • Venuzeula – Former Spanish colony and part of Gran Colombia, now stable socialist state, predominantly Catholic.

What do all these member states have in common? In general, they don’t care much for the US or our policies, but they’re happy to take our money to invest in our ultimate destruction. It’s rare to find such true irony.

By now you might be thinking “well this is depressing.” It is, but doesn’t have to be. With the technologies we have TODAY, we can make the decision to become independent of cartels simply by switching our focus and investment to renewable energy technology, both in electricity generation and in transportation. It can’t happen overnight, but it can happen within 20 years. BTW, what do you think you’ll be paying for a gallon of gasoline in 2026? I’ll bet you’re not saying $2.50…. A funny thing happens to unified producers when their largest, most dependent customer ceases to buy their product – they unravel from the inside out.

We have the ability to disentangle ourselves from this mess, shame on us if we don’t act upon it. The time to start is now.

Ohio State’s 2006 record: 8-0 Next up: Minnesota 10/28
Tune: Money by Pink Floyd
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