Happy Birthday, Richard

As most of you know, Wagner, had he lived, would be 200 today.

As a kid in 8th grade, I had a connection to the master. My father commanded the 1st Recon SQDN of the 2nd Armored Cavalry at Christensen Barracks near the town of Bindlach, Germany. The barracks, actually a complete base with housing, school, and what I think was an old Luftwaffe airstrip, overlooked Bayreuth. From just outside the front gate, one had an excellent view of the city, including the Festspielhaus shimmering like Valhalla in the sunset.

Back in eighth grade, I couldn’t have told Wagner from Verdi (or Elvis), and it was not until a couple of years later that a high-school buddy (who went on to become chair of a university German department) introduced me to the wonders of Wagner’s music.

Is there a future for air travel?

Right now, it’s looking pretty bleak. Increases in fuel costs combined with the hollowing out of the middle class means that airlines will focus increasingly on the top 10-15%. You’ll see service to fewer places, as detailed in this Wall St. J. report, higher prices, and more space devoted to business and first class. Think of what air travel was like back in the 1950s, for example, but without a DC-3 stopping once a day in your home town. Oxford, MS, where I went to high school and college, used to have scheduled service via Southern Airways and the aforementioned DC-3 (later Martin 404s). Today, it’s the “Airport at Ole Miss,” where it primarily serves rich alums flying in for football games. Nearby Memphis is down to 91 scheduled flights a day from over 300 just a few years ago.

On the other hand, the CEO of Bombardier seems optimistic in this condensed interview, also in the Journal. A couple of points that I found interesting:

  • Their new C-series, scheduled to enter service next year, will serve the 100-149 seat market with an aircraft that promises to be “20% more fuel efficient than the best aircraft out there.” Could this make service to St. Augustine profitable again?
  • High speed rail, about half of Bombardier’s business, is booming except in one major market. For example, they’re introducing a new train, the “Zephiro 380, a train that goes [235 miles] an hour, designed in conjunction with our German and Chinese employees.” For trips of less than 1,000 miles, this train could well beat airlines for travel between city centers. Eventually, we may overcome the ideological blinders keeping high-speed rail from becoming a presence in such dense markets as along the east coast, as well as between Chicago and New York (say hi to Eva Marie Saint for me), Chicago and Washington, San Francisco and LA, and the Dallas – Houston – San Antonio triangle.

I don’t know what all this means, but it seems obvious that if we’re going to stay a great nation, much less a great power, we have to have efficient and ubiquitous means of moving around the country.

It’s Still a Wonderful World

My order from Apple has two parts. Yesterday, I posted FEDEX tracking information for the first.

Here’s the second, coming by UPS:

UPS Tracking

Notice that it left China on Friday and is now out for delivery to our house near Hilton Head. By the way, the FEDEX package from yesterday’s post just arrived.

If you’re a local retailer, how do you compete with this? And don’t go whining about sales taxes because Apple collects it. I can think of four approaches:

  1. Have it in stock for customers to feel and play with. This includes accessories.
  2. Instill the EFAS climate among your sales staff. This means Fingerspitzengefühl for both the product and for sales technique (do they know the product inside and out and are they aces at selling?)
  3. Provide a lagniappe. Even if you have to order it for them, give them something extra, something they can take home, in their hands, today.
  4. Sell the whole experience: Provide free coffee (most places won’t let you give out free wine), keep the shop clean, ensure that everybody’s enthusiastic and having fun, and if you do screw up on something, fess up and make it right (screw-ups are your best opportunities to build customer relationships). If you’re the owner, get out on the floor, introduce yourself and mix it up with the customers. If lines get long at checkout (you should wish) lend a hand.

It’s a Wonderful World, part II

Imagine doing this when you were in college, assuming you were an undergrad in the ’60s:

Amazon Shipment

I’m tracking an Apple.com shipment in near realtime from the factory in Suzhou, China, to my house near Savannah, Georgia.

I think this is even more amazing than the first video Skype call I made, from Bergen, Norway, to my wife in Atlanta.

A couple of other thoughts:

  • It only takes a little over 4 days to make the trip, factory to end user. Talk about just-in-time.
  • Even though it was delivered to FEDEX Suzhou after the cutoff, FEDEX sent it out to Shanghai anyway (thanks, FEDEX!)

First Violet of Spring

African VioletWe bought this little guy for a Christmas get-together in 2011, and about this time last year it quit blooming.

Still, it provided a touch of green in an otherwise drab corner, so we’d water it every now and then.

When we were leaving for Chicago nearly two weeks ago, I notice a bud. When we got back on Monday, here’s what greeted us.

I take this as a good omen. I don’t know of what, but that’s the nature of omens.

Modern times

Every now and then, some new technology just strikes you as cool, like the original iPod or those super thin soft drink cans.

Here’s the box that my new pair of Mizuno Wave Rider 15 running shoes came in.

mizuno box

A good box for a fine pair of shoes. Sturdy. Rugged. Solid. What you’re seeing here is the complete box, with double-thick sides and lid with a double thick front, all cut from a single piece of cardboard. No fasteners — staples, for example — tape, or adhesives. Just snapped together so precisely that I kept expecting to find at least a couple of glued edges, like what you see if you take a cereal box apart. Nothing. Thirty seconds after I started to unfold it, it was ready for recycling.

It was only a dozen years ago that this level of precision was reserved for things like milling parts for advanced jet fighters.

Anybody know whether the original folding of the box was done manually or also by automated equipment?

What makes Finland’s education system so good?

A couple of things that I can think of:

  1. They want it to be good, so they stress education as a profession.
  2. Their system is based on trust.

The trust is earned because the system works — Finland ranks at or near the top in all categories of the OECD’s PISA survey and has on every PISA since 2000. And yet,

  • There is no competition from private schools because there are no private schools
  • There is national testing, but it is more of a sampling, minimal by American standards; there are virtually no standardized tests
  • There is no great overall goal of “excellence.” Rather the guiding principle is equality of opportunity for all Finnish students.

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Kindle, chi and the iMac

For all of you who have been anxiously awaiting news, here’s a photo of my Kindle Fire HD 7″ in its Persimmon leather case (“So you won’t go off and leave it in a hotel or coffee shop …”) It is really well integrated into the Amazon ecosystem: If you look closely you can see Sir Humphrey, the Minister, and Bernard. I haven’t tried editing documents, yet, but it’s very easy to upload and read PDFs, Word docs, spreadsheets, etc.

kindleThe chi part. You can upload 250 songs from most anywhere — your iTunes library, for example — plus unlimited songs that you bought from Amazon, for free. Pretty good, huh? Then I get this email from Amazon:

“You may have noticed that songs from 8 CDs you have purchased from Amazon were added to your Cloud Player library. This means that high-quality MP3 versions of these songs are available for you to play or download from Cloud Player for FREE. You can find your songs in the “Purchased” playlist.” Continue reading