Monday, June 30, 2008

Chew on this for a minute:

From the LA Times:

Nationwide, $200 [a barrel] oil and $7 gasoline would force Americans to take 10 million vehicles off the roads over the next four years, Jeff Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, wrote in a recent report.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An open letter to the people calling me concerned about Gloucester

Let me begin by saying thank you to all the people who've called and
sent emails over the past week expressing their heartfelt concern
regarding the media stories swirling around about the number of girls
in Gloucester High School who have become pregnant. Many of our friends and family took the time to remind us that our daughter is in the Gloucester public schools, which are obviously a hotbed of uncontrolled behavior based on what they have read in the New York Times and that they were worried for us. I would like to remind people that Rebecca is seven and that the biggest behavioral issue facing her first grade class last year was when two boys were saying the word "poop" during the pledge of allegiance. I blame the media, Reverend Wright and all that.

All this comes quickly on the heels of a more minor local media storm
after an intoxicated Gloucester resident smashed her Subaru head-on
into the SUV carrying America's Sweetheart Sandra Bullock and her
husband celebrity motorcycle builder Jesse James as they returned from a dinner. Add onto all of this the book and film "The Perfect Storm" which portrays Gloucester as home to hard-living fishermen who go out to sea and are have to fight a comically bad series of special effects until their boat sinks and you have a media impression of our town that is not exactly positive. We look like a bunch of drunken fishermen with out of control teens in the eyes of the nation. And you want to know the truth? Well, ok, you know what? That is the truth.

At least it's part of the truth, and maybe the interesting part to the rest of America in a slow news week when we're not winning the war and other countries are buying up all the oil we should be putting into our SUVs and house values are sinking like an Iowa cornfield. I guess it's comforting for some to know that there are people out they can feel superior to. Fine, if we can provide that catharsis that for our country, then so be it. But since we're pretty good at taking it, allow me to spend a couple of minutes dishing it back out. So, here are the top reasons why Gloucester, with in all its boat sinking, drunk-driving pregnant teen glory, is still way better than your joke of a town.

First and foremost, we don't have a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, or an Applebees. We've got a McDonalds, a Subway and it seems like about three dozen Dunkin Donuts, but otherwise the businesses are all small and local. People shop downtown, they eat in local places, we know the name of the family that owns the dry cleaners and the breakfast places and the hardware store. It's a real town, unlike yours, rather than just a collection of franchises that could be anywhere.

Also unlike your town, our town is mixed. Your town has all the poor people living in one place, all the blue collar folks living in another place and all the white collar living in yet another place. We are all jumbled together. Our neighborhoods have CEO's, fishermen, carpenters, computer programmers, nurses, cops and unemployed families on WIC. Your town's schools are segregated by economics. Ours are not. College bound kids and kids who won't finish high school are all together. This is how it used to be in America, before your town came along and decided that it would be different, that your kids wouldn't associate with those other kids. We didn't do that in our town.

Our town has some truly eccentric people living in it who are universally celebrated. Your town is all about conformity. We have a guy who picks stuff out of the trash all year and then makes a float for the 4th of July parade on top of his K-Car from it. He also runs for Mayor every election and plays a bugle down at the rotary handing out bumper stickers with his name on them. This guy is a local hero in our town. So are the guys who run out on the greasy pole that we have erected over the harbor. Every summer, during the festival of Saint Peter these guys grease up a horizontal telephone pole thirty feet above the water and try to run across it lengthwise to grab a flag nailed to its end. They don't do that in your town. Your town would never let such a thing occur, it's dangerous and loud and crazy and messy. Your lawyers would stop it in your town, because your lawyers are chickens.

You know what else? In our town, after a fire destroyed an apartment building and the only temple for miles, all the Jews in town were mourning in the Unitarian church nearby for the life lost and for all the memories that were consumed by the flames. The doors opened and the firefighters came in reeking of smoke with icicles hanging off their helmets and with the prayer shawls and other sacred objects they could salvage from the still smoldering wreckage. They walked in a line solemnly down the aisle and the people of the congregation reached out and touched them in their turnout coats and with their radios crackling, as if they were members of the congregation carrying the Torah. These men are not Jews they are Italians and Irishmen and African Americans, but they know loss. Everyone wept, the firefighters, us everybody. This happened in our town, not in your town.

In our town there is teen pregnancy and sometimes children die and there is drug addiction and violence. It's also in your town, but it's hushed up there. Our town is a big loud family where all the problems are out in the open. But, unlike in your town, in our big family there will always be people there who put food on your table if you run into a rough patch. There are people who spend all their time making sure that everyone has health care and can get into the programs they need to get help. In our town people know when you're hurting and they stop to help you. We're used to death, we're used to pain and suffering. In our town we don't expect everything to go right all the time.

In your town people walk down the street talking on cell phones and listening to iPods. You'd never do that in our town. In our town, if you did that you'd miss your friends yelling out your nickname as they passed by in their trucks or on the other side of the street.

Our town is a real place, it's one of the last real places in America. Maybe that is unusual to people from other towns, or maybe the media just likes coming up here on a summer day to cover a non-story because we have some great clam shacks and it beats whatever other "human interest" piffle they could be covering in their cookie-cutter towns, but the one part of the story that they have missed over and over again is that these girls are our kids. They will not be made pariahs out of. That's the kind of crap you pull in your town. Not ours.

Thank you for your attention. You can go back to making fun of us now.

Jim Dowd

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The digitization of "Stuff"

Taking the printed page to the digital changed publishing forever. Suddenly printing, copying, sharing and editing became as easy as typing. Next, audio went digital with major consequences for the recording industry. Just their name, "the recording industry" tells you all you need to know about how behind the curve they were/are. Now, the film/video industry is coming under the same Sword of Damaceles, with You Tube kicking the ass of every other outlet and five kids, a camcorder and a Mac with Final Cut have 80% of the capacity of a major motion picture studio.

So, we're done right? We've digitized everything? Not by a long shot. First, there is services. As most of you know, my company is one of leaders in starting that trend. But even more earth shaking will be the digitzation of stuff. Real, down-to-earth, good 'ole fashioned stuff.

This is so fundamentally disruptive because stuff has always been the foundation of modern economies. Once we, as civilized humans, got food production wired, making things and selling things was the name of the game. This spurned entire economic systems, like capitalism, for instance. And its response, communism.

But how do you digitize stuff? Well, everything that gets made has a blueprint, right? That blueprint tells the person building it what to make and what to make it out of. That can as easily be told to a computer-controlled fabrication machine as it can to an artisan or engineer, and the plan can be sent to any computer and thus to any fabricator that has the capacity to work the materials specified. Think of it as 3D printing.

What this means is that stuff becomes commodity, the same way music and print and video has become commodity. It also means that instead of getting stuff off the shelf designed for everyone, people will be able to modify the plans to their own specifications. Want that tennis racket handle a little bit thicker? No prob, just change the dimensions on the design software.

This future is already being made down in the Fab Lab at MIT. Tons of people are working on desktop fabbers, there is a Fabber Wiki. Right now we're about where we were with computers in 1975- big clunky things that can't do a lot. But the process will move incredibly quickly, as we know, and it won't be long until if you want something, you go to a local shop that has a fabber and get it made in real-time. And it won't be much longer beyond that that anything small you print off the same way you do for a document. This is not wishful thinking. This is all happening today.

So what does this mean? Well, I wouldn't want to be a manufacturer when this technology comes on line. I also wouldn't want my economy to be pegged to mass production. Hello! China! I'm talking to you here! It won't be tomorrow when you can walk down to your local Fab shop and have them print out a Ferarri for you, but you will be able to, and probably within 20 years.

Additionally, the open-source mindset will be already in place when this technology comes online. Just like Linnux, people will have the products they create listed for people to use and modify. Open source stuff, open source everything. No economy is equipped to handle this. Who gets paid? What has value? All that remains are land, services and commodities. Why work 40 hours per week to buy things when you can just print the things you want out? We're going to need to come up with a totally different way of incenting work when this comes to pass.

Anyhoo, enjoy this explanatory video.