Japanese Earthquake Tsunami Disaster is Different from Haiti

japanese earthquake nuclear reactor tsunami mapWithin a day after the Haiti Earthquake in January 2010 (7.0)there were celebrities on TV urging people to donate money to help those who were in need. Within a day of the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 we saw the same attention drawn to the even in the name of help for those in need. Both had telethons on television pleading with the public to donate millions of dollars to the relief efforts.

This time there is a very different mood in the USA a week after the 9.0 scale earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan. (2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) There have been some Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo links to the red cross to donate but overall the donation numbers I have seen shown on U.S. sites were very low. We haven’t seen any celebrities saying that they have donated money to the cause and our own government isn’t really talking about loans or donations right now in our budget crisis (and yet they’re contemplating invading Libya at the same time). 

We’ve seen the news focus their coverage on the nuclear disaster that was the result of the loss of electricity during the earthquake and the loss of the backup generators because of the water/power of the tsunami. This combined with explosions that cracked containment vessels and a lot of hot spent fuel sitting around in 6 reactors has an enormous risk associated with it. Sure, that is the big-blockbuster-disaster-film story here, but it is not the largest problem facing Japan. The newscasters have a captive audience worldwide with this topic because this is the one issue that could affect people outside Japan.

It is a weird difference in opinion that Americans have about Japan compared with the past earthquakes/tsunamis/disasters in Indonesia & Haiti. At this point in time it surprises me greatly that Americans have issues with a country like Japan to the point that they do not want to help. It makes us look un-educated and small minded. I thought Americans would identify directly with the Japanese, like I do but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that it is the case.

Some celebrities have been cited making rude jokes about the Earthquake/Tsunami within the last week and Gilbert Godfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck (he needs to be retired anyway) because of rude and insensitive tweets he sent. 50 cent also has been criticized for his lack of understanding and even a government spokesperson in Mississippi had to resign over tasteless rude comments (not really surprising for Mississippi).

I was not always a huge fan of Japan. In the 1980’s I viewed them like many people did, as the reason that US car companies and manufacturing companies here were going out of business. There was the assumption that the Japanese were ruthless and as smart as robots and we felt threatened by that. Now we feel that way about China instead. (I do not feel that way about China though, one of my best friends is Chinese and I’ve spent a lot of time with her family for decades and could never think of them that way)

 In the last 30 years things have changed. I think Tokyo and most Japanese people share a lot of commonalities with us. They love their cell phones & gadgets as much as we do. We’ve adopted their Anime and Video gaming interests as mainstream. Toyota/Honda/Mitsubishi/Mazda sell more cars here than American companies do because people really like them and they’re innovating with hybrids and new ideas like Scion. (I don’t have the exact sales numbers for this, it is more my impression from seeing what is on the road in Chicago). Entire movies have been made about the following for Japanese imports (Fast & Furious) And who is going to give up their big screen TV or computer monitor from Samsung, Sony or NEC? Or their Wii?

But the real change in perception happened when people started liking Sushi. About 10 years ago Sushi started getting popular in Chicago. With it U.S. audiences began to discover the california roll, spicy tuna and the joy of Miso Soup. Along with our broadening pallets beyond teryaki we discovered udon noodles, bento boxes, tempura, sake, mochi and red bean ice cream. (red bean ice cream may also be Chinese, and it is better than the green tea flavor)

japanese sakura flowers white pink trees cherry blossomsWe also discovered through Flickr that Japanese people love their cats as much as we do (Junku) and Sakura is the cherry blossom festival each spring.  A blend of Asian styles from China, Japan and other areas is very popular right now in home decorating, emphasizing the strong minimalist lines of furniture pieces and the delicate organic patterned styles. We also share our love of all things digital with Japan. And who can forget Sanrio and the super-popular Hello Kitty and her cast of friends? Can you get any more cute and friendly than that?

So how did I overcome the feeling of competitive anxiety with Japan? By enjoying the exported food. And the rich culture of preparation that surrounds it that makes it unique and special. Exporting your culture really does change views that people have of your country around the world. Through this I have realized that the Japanese are competitive people, but they are also very nice people and respectful of us as a country too. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can learn a lot from them about managing large populations in small places (like Tokyo) and how to continue to innovate in industry, manufacturing and the economy.

So that is why it bothers me that the U.S. population is not really doing anything to help here. Sure, some closed-minded conservatives will always have rude views, but I really think the people in America should do something to help.

Instead of understanding that Japan is a nation of people with a lot more in common with us than most of the world, a large portion of the U.S. public continues to focus on the differences. The bottom line is that Japan is an industrial/manufacturing/technology based economy like ours. The average person in Japan is pretty well-educated on a world scale, like us.

In fact we really do depend on each other a lot, buying/selling from each other and sharing strong bonds of family and friends across borders. We can’t just stand by and watch these nuclear reactors go out of control and not think about the people who don’t have food, water or homes anymore. It is a disaster just like anywhere else in the world. And that world has gotten a whole lot smaller in the last 10 years with the internet, skype,  international business and Sushi. And we’re not doing enough to help.

The Negatives of Social Networking Media

All the world is a Buzz about Facebook & Twitter these days. It’s almost like MySpace circa 2007, Google circa 2003 or Microsoft circa 1998. I don’t doubt the success, innovation or long-term viability of these social networking sites but I have seen that there are flaws in the system that mean that things won’t be perfect with the business along the way and we’re in for a bumpy road. Basically my point is that for all these sites give us in entertainment, social connections and opportunity they also have some negatives that are almost the equal and opposite pendulum action.

1. Time Suck – all social networking sites are using your time that you used to devote to other things. Maybe in some cases this is actually a better use of your time (instead of TV) but in most cases its time spent that you used to use for researching new information for work projects,  time actually spent talking with people in person (family/friends) or time spent doing things that really need to be done at work or home. Once the brain gets trained that you can go socialize instead of work at those times of day it’s a habit extremely hard to break. For all of us procrastinators looking for instant gratification its a real problem keeping up with work and affects the overall productivity of companies and the country as a whole. Internet access is much more prevalent and has far more users during the business day than it does at night, so there’s the proof. Unless your job is trolling these sites for sales prospects by “connecting” and making “relationships” with your customers, its a waste of time to spend more than 15 min a day.

2. Privacy – Of all the details analyzed about consumer privacy online (on Facebook) in the last few weeks the most suprising thing I’ve seen is that people really don’t care about their information online. Sure, nobody is going to post a ss number or cc number on their profile (duh) but they don’t really seem to realize the power of logging all their social interactions in one database and selling access to retailers and cpg companies who have even larger databases of information to analyze and strategize with. Is it really as fun when most of your friends are companies selling you things all the time? Twitter already has morphed into the largest opt in direct marketing platform I’ve ever seen. If people keep using it at this rate it will surpass email. The other obvious issues come with the work life balance thing and when people friend work makes and think nobody will see them rant about work or post drunk pictures on a sick day, but then again I’ve heard that its just people naturally selecting themselves out of the working pool.

3. Logic – the other issues I’ve seen coming for a while have to do with how everything that is built from large databases online with lots of consumer data seems to not work properly. There is always some algorithm developed by a science tech guy based on some theoretical calculus and it doesn’t provide relevant results. Which brings me to a repeating theme of data right now: we don’t really know what to do with it yet. Nobody knows enough real info about their customers to target them. (who has a budget for that?) And the database people just like to say they improved things a statistically insignificant amount with an algorithm tweak. The marketing strategy/process should always start with offline real life information about people and products and then develop an algorithm to show you information in that way. I don’t know why it’s always done backwards but it will keep our results irrelevant and marketing dollars wasted for a long time to come.

New Media and New Information Paradigms

I have been hearing about the demise of the newspapers, the rise of search/social networking/new media and the internet fragmentation concept for years now. (almost a decade?) And I just read about it again today with the newspapers secretly meeting to try and sort out monetization methods to save their business. At the same time I am a Guinea pig living through this time of change/shift in how people find information, use information and consume things. Here are some of my observations although not in a concise dissertation format yet. 

  • We are at an odd time in internet evolution, on pause between big developments. We got email, IM, web sites, RSS feeds, Blogs, social networking and now Twitter. We don’t need more services or ways to interact on the web. We need better all inclusive ways to connect and consume all in one. Ways to make the experience more relevant and more inclusive of many kinds of content at the same time. Not wasting our time.
  • I can’t help but notice that at 33 I have never really “read” a newspaper. This indicates to me that newspapers were not that important back in the 1980’s to my generation when their profits were healthy and the internet was but a dream for most of us. (Except being something to line litter boxes and bird cages with.) I hate the size format, I hate the ink and I always have. I actually like the ads though, especially the Sunday fliers. 
  • Weeks go by without my watching any TV. This started about 3 years ago when I got high speed internet. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just don’t have time to sit for 2 hours plus and I know if i sit down I won’t get up and get anything accomplished in the evening/weekend. And I don’t like overly repetitive things. I was watching the sell that house shows on HGTV to get ideas about how to sell mine and after about 3 I got it and didn’t need to watch any more. Reruns aren’t nostalgic to me really, more just boring. And reruns is all Cable TV is about.
  • The only TV I will drop everything for is Top Gear UK. When it is in Season we trek over to my parent’s house and watch wwith extended family weekly. Everybody drops everything to watch that show. It makes you laugh, it makes you dream of fancy cars and it inspires you to take grand adventures regardless of what the outcome is.
  • This leads me to a general cluelessness about a lot of local and newsworthy (?) events. Things like buses that are Hijacked and what the weather will be tomorrow. I also find that these things weren’t essential to me in the first place. I carry an umbrella, what’s the big deal?
  • I find myself focusing on things I’m interested in. Maybe this is the political polarization people speak of? I read my marketing emails/newsletters/blogs as well as home design blogs and write my own blog as well. I check status on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr and maybe update if I have something interesting to say. And I work a lot. I also am always investigating 2-3 new directions for my work/career. Not all of them pan out, but they help me figure out what is evolving that I need to know about.
  • I do still use the phone (yes the land line). It is the best way to reach my parents and Steve’s parents. Steve’s parents email but mine are not really into it. And we try and go visit once a week in person. In person time still matters.
  • I am a book reader because I am a train commuter. I have been for years now and it has created a small library of business/marketing/analysis books. I order from amazon when I see something I like and then go consult the pile of books for something new.
  • And that is all I have time for. Now with a husband (fiancee really for one more month), 3 cats, 4 litter boxes, a yard, wedding planning, condo selling, house hunting, family organizing, laundry, food shopping & cooking I am overbooked. I don’t even get to skype/call my friends very often. A party invite seems really daunting these days with the schedule we keep.
  • I wonder about new media uses and if we will really care about anything not personally relevant to us in the future? Will a police chase matter to everyone in Chicago or just the people who live by the highway where it happens? Will we be less distract-able by sensational news and distracting entertainment? Will we be able to channel the news, information and analysis we really need into our lives and ignore the products/content we really don’t care about?
  • On the other side of the coin, how will we ever discover new things? I find myself looking to find out what is happening on the internet a few times a week and look to Google News and the Yahoo home page. Not the Trib. Yet somehow the list at these sites is always limited and not really anything relevant either.
  • There has to be something in-between a completely open fire hose of information and one select rss feed with just content from one niche area. There has to be some middle ground between being hijacked by ads for 20 minutes of a 60 minute program on TV and not knowing at all where to find a dress for my rehearsal dinner when my usual 5 clothing websites didn’t pan out. (who has time to go to a mall?) ((and why does Google shopping suck when the main search is generally good??))
  • People won’t pay for news. Period. They will pay for some kind of extra relevant cool service though. They will pay for innovation, new products that are noticeably better for some reason. Things that simplify your life.
  • Ads should not be integrated more with content as if they were the content. It blurs the line in what is really true and what is marketing speak. And although they may pay the bills for a while, people will eventually figure it out and abandon that medium that does this.
  • We need another search player. Google is not enough and although they do some things well, I am not a fan of everything they create. I would like more companies to work on real time indexing of information as well as historical archiving to keep information accessible if anything happens to Google’s accessibility. At some point people will be so hooked they will be able to charge for a (low cost) subscription to the search engine itself. 
  • More people need web enabled phones with internet use active. I just read yesterday that out of 57 million people in the US with internet capable mobile phones only 18 million have internet enabled! (netpop stat comparing us to China) 31.5% of the people with internet use phones don’t even pay for internet access? (only 13% of all the cell phones total) This is a huge hurdle to making info more relevant and accessible because people carry their phones everywhere. Things like bigger screens, flatter profiles and easier software app use on these phones will help the adoption rates improve. 
  • Identity management and security is also a problem. We might like something like OpenID but only if sites still allow anonymous comments too. Privacy and being able to say something important without being hunted down in person for your opinion necessary for getting people to adopt this identity management software and make our lives easier between all the hundreds of web sites and e-commerce activities we do in a day and consolidating that information for our own personal use.   
  • Data mining is going to have to improve. If statistics are wrong 25% of the time like stated in the Numerati book, we really need to combine automated data crunching with human decisions about data more often. Numbers are meaningless without someones explanation. This completely changes what and how data is configured, crunched and reported and can determine/undermine your results even if you manage to collect it perfectly.
  • All this plus the only way out of a recession is through innovation. We’re waiting.

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?

TopGear USA, Canceled – 2nd try

TG USA NBC FAIL - Who is up next?

TG USA NBC FAIL - Who is up next?

I just read that TopGear USA or Gear as NBC was going to call it, has been canceled before it has even begun. (because of the epic fail of Knight Rider??? WTF?)  This is disappointing news but it also doesn’t surprise me since this has been the 2nd try at getting a sister show in the US running in some form.

There was a BBC developed test pilot about 2 years ago called TGUSA that never left the ground, and in 2008 NBC started the process of developing a series and selecting hosts and now that has stopped too.

The Top Gear Show people at the BBC say that they are shopping the concept around to cable broadcast networks via the Jalopnik post, but I am not all that sure this will work either. I think that finding a network in the US for TopGear will be tricky because of a few things:

1. All the shows in the US change their content to please advertisers. TopGear does not. This is a huge risk for US networks, (cable or free tv) because they could loose a huge amount of revenue if an advertiser doesn’t like a comment about their product on the show. (not just cars remember, TG rips on anything they don’t like from caravans to clothing to speed cameras)

2. The only people who will want to fund this show would have to be fans. (even if they are executives or media moguls, they still have to be fans to believe in the concept) They would have to understand the intricacies of what TG is, how it is produced and why people love it so much all over the world. You can’t mess with that formula. They are trying so hard in Australia to get it right and my brother still calls it “Bad Top Gear” that we watch when UK Top Gear is off-season. It is a show that is incredibly hard to get right  and the chance you can replicate this in a formulaic way is slim. Just think, the UK  Top Gear has been running since 1977 and only since the late 1990’s has it been really good. It took them that long to get the UK version right and they are still tweaking.

The TopGear show not only takes the best improviser hosts, it must take a huge staff of researchers, a boatload of talented car mechanic guys for all the race and experimental stuff they do, a boatload of the best camera guys and the most excellent editors and sound people. And I am sure I am unfairly forgetting half of the staff. And then there is the constantly updated website. This is a large overhead cost when networks may not know if they can make any ROI from it and don’t know heads or tails about what would make it successful.

Maybe they should start small instead? A small TG-USA blog with short 5-10 min segment clips once in a while? See if it generates enough web interest and then take it to TV? Smaller staff, less hours needed in all the functions and it lets you get your bearings straight on all the details before going on to a higher cost/risk situation. Just a thought… 

Or maybe produce one time hour long “specials” to see how they take without a huge commitment in set building and long term contracts? More the on the road stuff, challenges, trips, building/breaking things? I am just trying to think of ideas on how to keep costs down and limit the risk in the beginning so it can catch on.

Another idea is to pitch it to a sports network, the speed channel or odd indie channel on cable like FX. Or go wild and produce it on the BBC America channel. (and take off those neutered versions of the show that are running there now) That might be it’s best chance of succeeding. Get some large (non-car) sponsors of the show and see what happens. 

Regardless of who ends up producing and funding TopGear USA I hope it lives and I still look forward to seeing the final product. (even if it ends up kind of crap)   . . .

Hey can I help? My brother and I plus my fiance make 3 redheads who know negligible things about cars and have great banter. (my Brother and Fiance actually do know something about cars, I am really the goof of the bunch) If nothing else these pics prove we are real people.

Ok, I know that is a crap idea, but I had to try…

We’d be the super low budget version.

Here’s a camcorder duct taped to your window, good luck, don’t break it. 

Seriously, it would be funny… Ok I’ll forget about it…

TIME Magazine Article – The Social Contract in America

I was reading my parent’s TIME Magazine this week (that I usually swipe to read on the train) and they had polled Americans on the state of the economy and their take on how they plan to personally “get by” in the coming years. You can read the survey results and the article about this concept of a social contract online at TIME.com.

I had never heard of this concept of a “social contract” that business and government have with America. I work in a recruitment related field so if it existed, I thought I would know about it. As a human being I was aware of it as a colloquial dream we have perpetuated by the stories told by our parents and grandparents.

My family history doesn’t go back that far here in America. My great grandparents arrived from Poland and the Ukraine pre-WW1 and went to work in the gritty factories of Chicago because it was a better living and opportunity than they had back in Europe. (poor peasant potato farmers I usually say) and the economic opportunity has kept us here in Chicago ever since.

My grandparents generation went on to slightly boring but consistent blue collar jobs with pensions and my parent’s generation went on to white collar jobs after getting college educations. Some of them got a pension and health insurance and others did not. My generation doesn’t even get a shot at a pension. Companies have found that they can hire good people without it and they tell us that a 401K is really the same thing. (for reference I am 33)

So, we have these 401Ks that seem to never make money fast enough to accrue enough funds to equal what a pension would. They plummet in value every 10 years or so in recessions, and someone changes the funds available without asking or telling us. Most of us have health insurance through our jobs. We pay handsomely for it, between $100 and $300 per month per person.  And then when something happens that requires medical care, the insurance only covers 1/2 the costs. It is totally possible to go bankrupt with health insurance coverage these days because most coverage is crap compared to what my family had back in the 1980’s.

TIME says that there is an “implied” social contract in America where you give a company (or number of companies) your time and energy and they give you “a basic level of economic security provided you work hard and took responsibility for your family”. (direct quote from TIME July 28, 2008 p 42) And I think things have changed. This contract implied or not doesn’t really exist anymore. I see businesses every day making decisions to give workers less and people have to get more creative trying to survive.

I think the social contract is more like this now.

1. A company promises to pay you as little as they can for your time. This sounds pessimistic but I have seen the proof on paper that you are paid what they can get you for with your experience rather than what you are worth or how much “the job” pays. You have to wait years to work your way up the ladder to make a good wage and then marketers and your neighbors taunt you daily to buy everything in sight to keep up with the Joneses. 56% of the people who made over 100K a year said even they can’t expect to afford health care, college or a secure retirement anymore.  And 100K a year is a lot of clams. (I don’t make anywhere near that. ) I do realize that these businesses have to keep costs low in order to compete with India and China, but somehow I’d rather see the cuts come from other areas that don’t erode the culture in America and impede our ability to raise families. 

2. Marketers will prey on you from every direction. A lot more people could make it through hard times if they had savings but the national savings rate is negative now. All the “stuff” and services you “must” have seems to replace the financial security your grandparents achieved. Just say no didn’t work for reducing drug use in the 80’s and I think that the disposable consumer culture will probably continue here too.

3. Health Issues will cost you. Most young people don’t need much care because you haven’t gotten to the age where things start falling apart yet and we don’t have any concept of how much it costs to survive a serious health issue like cancer or bypass surgery. Both my parents had heart surgery in the late 1990’s and they were 50 & 60K each. We paid about 10K each of those costs and the insurance paid the rest. I just heard someone at my dad’s workplace had bypass surgery last month and it cost $100K. I know they have really poor health insurance there, and I can guess that the guy might have had to pay 50K out of pocket. Even dental issues are expensive. I need have needed a crown for about 5 years and because there is no pain or damage being done since the root canal and filling, I am holding off on the $1,000.00 price tag since dental insurance is only going to pay 1/2 and I would rather save the $ for a real emergency like fixing the 7 year old car I have or paying for the radiator heat to be fixed in my condo.

4. Retirement is going to be difficult. Very difficult. Some people wonder if social security will be around in 2040 when I turn 65. I personally, think it will be. It may not be nearly enough though. Most of us will have some 401K savings but as the Frontline Retirement special found, most people make crucial mistakes with managing their 401K and end up loosing a lot of money and getting little out at the end. (and then have to go back to work) Some tips include, never take a lump sum benefit, due to the tax penalty, never just let it ride and not watch the performance and watch for trading and management fees eating up your money. It also helps not to own a McMansion when you retire and live within your means before retirement. Saving money (like 10% of after tax income) on the side and investing it in some low risk but higher than inflation yields is also a smart way to prepare. And well let’s hope medicare still exists in 2040 also, and that doctors and hospitals still accept it as payment.

5. Creativity & Leverage are the new working hard. Money makes more money, it’s all who you know and being clever with side jobs or side businesses usually helps. Yes, saving a large percentage of your income by living simple and investing it can help you have the “power of compounding interest” as they say. Keeping in touch with people and maintaining your network helps with job opportunities and side opportunities to make some income. Starting weekend jobs or part time businesses online or otherwise helps too. I find people living simply and leveraging clever ways to work in more than one place are the ones that will have what they need later on. Getting into an industry that is doing well in the economy also helps but that may take pro-active skill re-training. Paying off your mortgage early and not moving also helps. You loose thousands of dollars on the services and fees associated with that transaction every time you move, and  we all know you pay 3x the value of your loan in interest if you really pay your mortgage over 30 years. After that you are seriously in the hole.

The only contract I think we really have now is that everything will change by the time the 30 somethings reach retirement age. The only thing we have to rely on is ourselves. In general business is struggling because the US has passed it’s peak and we will be in a pack of “also rans” soon. Companies in the US will not see the skyrocketing growth that they saw post-war in the last 60 years with China, India and Eastern Europe emerging as super-economic powers. This coupled with dwindling natural, energy and food resources will make the next 50 years a post US dominant era that will be much harder and more global.

I actually believe if the US was more competitive with skills and education we would do well in a world economy but I haven’t yet seen the expertise or drive to innovate. All I see every day is the drive to reduce expenses and cut resources in business and make short term gains with little or no thought about long term survival. I feel like the country is being run by the lowest common denominator MBAs right now and the next 10 years for us commoners are going to be difficult as a result, as we all lack the jobs/growth that they sucked/poached out in the short term and ran off with the profits.

So, enough about all that negativity.

How do you plan on coping with the changing game living and working in the US in the next 50 years?

TopGear USA Interview with Adam Corolla and my show suggestions for BBC & NBC

So, I saw this article by popular michanics about the new USA version of TopGear and their interview with Adam Corolla today and since so much seems to be up in the air about the show I thought I would post some topic suggestions for fun. I am a car fan, although not a gearhead. My brother is a gearhead so I’m related to cars, I guess. Anyway don’t expect me to decode the technical imperfections in blockbuster movies or anything, but I do have a database of TG episodes in my brain to off-sett any lack of technical knowledge.  Oh yea, just to clarify one last point: I am a girl. (needed since most people who write about TopGear are always guys)

1. INDIANAPOLIS SPEEDWAY – you have to work it in somewhere. It is an icon of American racing and cars and history all in one. Occasionally TG gets into the history of cars by exploring the past and how crazy ass those people were driving without seatbelts, air bags or windshields. Indy is an icon and the track isn’t busy most the year, so stop by, build something, race it, put the stig against some real drivers, drive some vintage racers and see what happens.

2. The Bonneville Salt Flats – We all know this institution for it’s land speed records and it’s yearly speed week. I would love to go, but alas I have a day job that pays fairly well and I can’t leave. So, go out, build something, race something, follow the stories of some teams, see what it is all about. OMG! TopGear UK is doing this!!!! (holy shit that is going to be a good episode!)

3. Nurbergring – Ok I know it isn’t all one word like that, but it’s how I say it. This track has gained heavenly status since it’s TG inclusion and it is the 3rd most interesting car place to go on my list. A major feature of this trip would be the lack of German language knowledge of the presenters and the colorful regulars that race there. Sabine is a super bonus since she is an amazing driver.

4. Route 66 – Hello road trip. I think most of it is still available or close to being travelable now. It might be a fun challenge with vintage cars. They say they were easy to fix because there weren’t all the bolt on power accessories back then, so if they break down it shouldn’t be too hard to fix a 57 Chevy right?

5. Fuel economy cars – hey, we are all affected by this running out of oil because “we taught the rest of the world to worship cars and now they have them” problem. So, why not do some alternative fuel conversions? I have a 2001 Saab 9-3 that I would love to convert to electric. How on earth does one do that? What ever happened to electric car magazine from the 1990’s? Import some Hot Hatchbacks from Europe that should be for sale here based on their fuel economy stats.

6. Demolition Derby – Hello; fun times at the state fair. Every show should end with a Demolition Derby or breaking stuff.

7. NASCAR – Um, I am not much of a fan, but at some point you have to respect the speed that they travel and their innovative use of duct tape. I would suppose there could be a lot of interesting challenges here. Not sure what though since I don’t watch because of that annoying rev-it-up segment they have. Do they have what it takes to be on a Nascar pit crew?

8. Figure out why American cars suck. Seriously, why do they suck now when they didn’t 40 years ago? Take a poll, comparison shop, talk to the US manufacturers and ask why they suck and why I have to buy a car from Sweden just to get a decent looking one, even thought it is still an unreliable piece of crap from GM. Why can’t they bring back the 50 mpg geo metro for the eco-people who want it or the EV 1 for people who love it, why can’t Ford design a fuel efficient car to save their life and why can’t Chrysler make a car that doesn’t break down every 3rd week?

9. Buick of the week segment – just a suggestion…

Ok, that is all I could come up with in 15 minutes. I will post more later if I can think of additional ideas, but alas I have to go back to my real job now. I would think also that as many new car reviews as you can get for hot cars is great, but don’t forget real people cars too like low cost entry level cars and family cars. You can forget the trucks and mini-vans though. No one really needs to test them, they are all the same.

Official News: TopGear USA on NBC confirmed

topgear usa, adam corolla, gear, NBC, BBCSee more info on Jalopnik here. Apparently TopGear (or Gear) as they call it here will be coming to the US with Adam Corolla after all. I am not sure when though. You would expect someone like me to be crazy go nuts for this right now but I have to admit I look at NBC remaking this EPIC series with a bit of skepticism. I find that it is hard to remake a series that was a mix of personalities more than content. It relies heavily on who they choose and even if you get exact replicas of James, Jeremy and Richard there is no guarantee that they will get along in the same manner. Even if it is partially scripted (GASP!). Anyway I guess we will have to hang out watching our old episodes of TG UK on DVD all summer and wait this out to see if the TG UK season 11 and the TG USA season 1 have legs this fall. (they seem to have copied at least the TG hairstyles from this picture)

TopGear USA Names New Host Adam Corolla

adam corolla, topgear USA, Gear, NBC, host, presenter, newAs Jalopnik reported last week Adam Corolla has been named the first host of TopGear USA in it’s newest iteration of GEAR on NBC in 2009. (per an announcement on his radio show and some pix with TG cars, see K Nob left.) I have read all kinds of mixed reviews online and heard people’s opinions on this pick and here are my thoughts to add to the fray:

1. I don’t know Adam Corolla from a bag of rocks but a lot of people seem to know him from The Man Show and they seem to think he is funny and willing to get shoved in frozen lake for a laugh. (which sinefeld and leno wouldn’t do) This is encouraging. He doesn’t have a persona that is so well known it is career limiting (being typecast) yet people are pretty sure he can do (or has done) Improv in his day and has some snark. This was a big qualifier for this job. I am sure they did some pilot episode recording or something to compare the candidates on film (per Richard Hammond’s book where he mentions his interview & audition) and I bet Adam probably does ok in the snark category. (he also seems to do well in the 1991 wardrobe category) This is probably the most important part of the selection process.

2. Many people seem to be up in arms about the TopGear USA show needing to be an exact replica of the TG UK show down to the exact personality traits of each host. (presenter) They say they need an overbearing stubborn tall guy, and an emotional and hyper short guy and a long haired geeky guy. This couldn’t be more wrong. You need some great personalities, some strong opinions and some great improv and mucking about to make a great show. You can’t re-create the actual people and their attitudes over here that Jeremy, Richard and James have in real life. That would be monkey-stupid and not at all viable. The mix should be diverse but the personalities all will be different.

2.5 I have also read that people think Adam Corolla doesn’t have a car background. He must have some car knowledge though or else they wouldn’t have selected him. I would guess that you would have to have all of the following skills to host: know how to drive a manual transmission well enough to talk to the camera and drive at the same time, know some basic autocross skills for the lap times and tests, be familiar with fancy and race type cars so that you know how to power slide and such. I would also hope the person genuinely enjoyed power sliding and pushing a car’s limits. I think a lot of the technical things that Jeremy, James and Richard say are discussed with the producers and prep people of TG to give them some topline analysis from the team of research geeks behind the scenes. Hopefully NBC’s GEAR will have a team of car geeks behind the scenes too.

3. Some people are complaining that the show will be all about NASCAR and that will suck ass. Yes, that would technically suck ass if it happened, but I think the show will have diverse talent and diverse activities all around the different car type groups. (Imports, Domestics, Pony Cars, Muscle Cars, Roadsters, Trucks, Minvans, SUVs, Street Racing Mods, Low Riders, Classics, Really old Classics, Classics with wooden wheels, Green Ecological leaf-eating Cars, Exotics and Supercars. And hopefully there will be some fun crossover with the auto racing sports in this country Indy, CART, NASCAR, Funny Cars, F1, Unlimited Fuel Dragsters, Autocross, Sprints, and Demolition Derbys at the county fair. (please use the last one I beg you) The content is usually based on a couple things:

    A. Supercars awe inspire us all, so cover as many of those as possible and make the editing and camera work turn it into car pron. This keeps the 10-50 yr old boys happy, and the beauty of the cars even makes it interesting to some of us women. We also enjoy the speed.

    B. People need practical every day cars reviewed in a non-sleep inducing non-autoweek way. This means everything from the YuGo to the Mercs. (by merc I mean Mercedes not Mercury, I can’t believe I just said that) I can’t believe MOTORweek is still on TV. I want to shoot my television when I run across that show accidentally.

    C. Challenges building things and Road Trips through other countries are the comedy and entertainment portion of the program. Do the ridiculous, seriously. Do the serious, ridiculously. And please Fork it up in ways we never thought possible. The only difference here is that it should require less passport use in the USA. Route 66 anyone? Highway 1 PCH?

    D. Weird sometimes stupid stunts. Jumping minivans and seeing how long a car runs with all the coolant drained out of it. endurance, destruction and general stunt-ness is needed here. These segments are short on time and long suspense and hopefully provide either humor or carnage or both. (ala the car chases in the blues brothers movie)

    E. The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment. It allows the BBC to make some marketing money and it gives us some interesting non-car related person in an autocross race situation. This either ends up being impressive or rediculous, it works great either way. I recommend a Chevy Malibu as the car here. It’s so average it hurts. It will also be painful seeing George Clooney actually sit in one instead of the fancy schmantsy things he is used to.

But the question I want answered that no one was asking is: Did Adam Corolla get the job just because he was named after a cheap econo-box Japanese car? If so it’s a really bad pun, and I wouldn’t mention it. I think using the corolla as the reasonably priced car is out too.

Also read about the interview with Adam Corolla and my suggestions for the show here.

Also, I am a little baffled that this got ranked #1 on a TopGear USA search in Google. I am not sure how that happened. This blog isn’t really that great, except possibly when I write about TG or Marketing. Anyway, if for some reason you officially want to contact me about what I write here, you can through my other blog here. My stats say that about 50 people a day are looking for TG USA info and come here. I hope that is enough for NBC’s to keep the show on air this fall.

TopGear USA Version 2 with NBC BBC Partnership

According to this news article NBC has contracted with the BBC to produce a USA version of TopGear for network free tv. No estimates on when it would launch but I would guess Fall of 2008. It is sad though that I think they may miss the mark. A lot of funny TopGear stuff is not suitable for US TV let alone would pass the network censors.

Anyway, I did get some hope when I suggested a few months ago that TopGear should hold open auditions for the 3 presenter spots when launching a new show in a new country because you can more accurately find talent that is in touch with what is funny and new with cars. Plus its a huge PR event to get the public involved.

Anyway the TopGear Australian franchise took my advice (or thought of it too) and has open auditions scheduled. Go Aussies! Bring us some Holden goodness.

Another Word of advice: for an unscripted but not a reality show, you need people with a background in Improv and Cars. Or a smart ass who knows cars, or an improv funny guy who knows nothing about cars and gets to be the new captain slow. And these presenters have to have strong opinions about cars for it to clash in a funny way. Who knows. But improv training and quick wit is a big part of the equation. Exploiting your lack of knowledge for comedy can be just as funny as knowing a lot.

So, what I want to know is where do I sign up? You could very easily use a girl in the mix right?

The other part of the successful mix is not chopping it into small pieces with commercials every 5 minutes and not ruining it with dumb stunts like fear factor. I hate fear factor but love TopGear. If you put anything like FF on TG I will hunt you down and hang you by your toenails. It’s supposed to be about humor in car culture and in every day life. Heck, get the Jalopnik guys. They know the cult of cars as good as anyone I know.

My brother just replied to my email I sent alerting him to this and suggested that Jay Leno or Tim Allen host but I really think they need presenters who are unknown and from improv. Jay Leno and Tim Allen are great funny car guys, but they are too attached to other brands and images. And they aren’t a Jeremy Clarkson. Plus how are you going to get through traffic on the 405 with filming big stars anyway? Would either of those guys put on a wet suit and try to windsurf in freezing cold water? And be ok with failing miserably in freezing cold water? You also need unknown people so you don’t attract too much attenton filming in the city as these challenges are happening.

On a side note about the show content, they need to visit all the racing and car history places along the way going cross country as they film different challenges. (think INDY) They go across entire countries in a day on UK TopGear but in the US it would be states instead. At least you don’t need a passport. And we need an American cousin Stig that actually fits in the car this time. Not all Americans are that fat.

Anyway, my lack of time for this post is probably evident in it’s lack of  structure, grammar and spelling, but you get the point: NBC/BBC: Don’t FORK this up!

And my brother just emailed again saying he still wants Tim Allen to host with 2 unknown but funny/smart side kicks. Ok, we can compromise on that, but no denim shirts and grunting this time ok? That’s so 1990’s. Ugh. 

Another idea; Why not Ze Frank? he singlehandedly entertained us on the internet for a year and might be perfect for this kind of non scripted show. Check out the show http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/ and his TED talk from a few years ago if you have a minute. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/87  I have been wondering what he has been up to and missing his show anyway. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for him. Hey Studio people, give Ze a call!

 Update: The first TopGear USA NBC host has been chosen: Adam Corola.

Advertising and Economic Growth Dissertation

advertising-and-economic-growth.pdf

Ok, back to the serious stuff again… (ugh) I have been reading this study on advertising on economics, while I am on the train. (it keeps the crazy people away) Advertising and Economic Growth by Maximilien Nayaradou and prepared by the World federation of Advertisers. (I guess there is a federation for everything) It is very interesting, and as always I am looking for clues and insight into my own market and analysis category by way of these theories and research. I am only 1/2 way through it but 2 things have struck me thus far.

advertising economics correlation

1. The consumption trend for the US is crazy high compared with the rest of the world. The people here are really living on thin ice financially. There is very little saftey net if you spend 70% of your income (considered consumption in the chart). The formula is More Advertising $ Spent = More Consumer Consumption. But notice the law of diminishing returns, and how high the spending had to get just to move the needle that little bit between the UK and the US which are already at the highest end.

2. The correlation they talk about between higher advertising rates and higher economic growth rates are not really true in my opinion. I do not think extra advertising raises growth rates, I think it speeds up and condenses a product life cycle in a shorter time. The result is that things get old faster, out of fashion faster and people want new stuff faster. Therefore excessive and mass advertising would condense a product’s lifecycle from 5 years to maybe 2 at best. You train people to want something new every 2 months and your product won’t sell at all in 3. It all leads to a faster churn of companies growing booming and later failing and going under. That’s not new growth, that’s growth that would have happened anyway, you just made it faster, and it will drop off just as fast when people get tired of it and stop buying. No one talks about the downward slide on the other end, or how this creates a turblulent economy where people get laid off from jobs every 2 years and companies have to get bailed out all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I like advertising in general. I have always been fascinated by it and love it’s news like ability to reach consumers and inform them about new priducts, information and entertainment when it is relevant and benificial. But I HATE over-advertising spammy companies that think that with enough money spent plastering their name on everything that moves, they will be able to keep that upwards growth trend going. You have to realize that people are over sensitized and will block it out after a certain point, and if they have a bad experience with the product they are not going to be very willing to give it another chance. Unless they aren’t that smart, but then as a country we have even bigger problems.