Monthly Archives: February 2009

Paul Harvey (as played by Rich Hall), 1987

Paul Harvey passed away today at the age of 90.

Rich Hall played him on Saturday Night Live – a clip I can’t find right now – and also in this 1987 Showtime special I found on Youtube.

Time Magazine’s obituary talks a bit about the Rich Hall piece on SNL:

A salesman for himself and his vision of the American dream, he was also a master peddler of many products, whose makers were as loyal to Harvey as his listeners. A skit from the 1984-85 season of Saturday Night Live had Harvey (played by Rich Hall) compulsively peppering his news items with sponsor names. The man remained unapologetic. “Some days,” he told Larry King in 1988, “the best news in the broadcast is the commercial. You can keep your natural teeth all your natural life! There is a glove that doesn’t wear out! There is a car battery that keeps its promises! That’s good news! And I would use those things on the air if they were not in the body of the commercial.” The finest huckster is the one who’s sold himself on the product first.

I’ll keep looking.


Ann Arbor Gold gift certificates turn to lead; CertifiChecks of Dayton, OH in Chapter 7 bankruptcy

First noted on Twitter:


CertifiChecks, administer of the Ann Arbor Gold program, has gone out of business

The Chamber was recently informed that CertifiChecks, the company that administered the Ann Arbor Gold program, has gone out of business. The statement below was available on their website. Calls to the CertifiChecks management team have not been returned. 

CertifiChecks will no longer administer Ann Arbor Gold. 

CertifiChecks gift certificate sales for Ann Arbor Gold have been halted. 

Do not deposit Ann Arbor Gold gift certificates in the bank as they will be returned. 

Merchants: Please remove all Ann Arbor Gold door and register decals. 

Ann Arbor Merchants affected by this are asked to contact Chamber president Jesse Bernstein for assistance.

CertifiChecks is based in Dayton, Ohio; here's what the news report from writer Ben Sutherly in Dayton says:

The company said it has halted gift certificate sales and its administration of gift certificate programs, effective Thursday, Feb. 26.
The company said it is filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court in Dayton.

A 2002 story in the Dayton Business Journal gives some sense for their scope of operations:

CertifiChecks, founded in 1999 by Steve Buchholz, serves nearly 40,000 associations, chambers of commerce and mall or shopping centers nationwide.

By 2004, when Certifichecks had signed up a network of Christian-owned hotels, they had grown substantially, as noted in the Dayton Business Journal:

CertifiChecks, founded locally by Steve Buchholz in 1999, now has about 72,000 restaurant associations, chambers of commerce and bed and breakfast associations as customers nationwide.

News is starting to trickle in about the impact of this. From Muskegon, MI, Chad Lerch of the Muskegon Chronicle writes in the story Muskegon Chamber fumes as widespread CertifiChecks gift checks bounce

MUSKEGON COUNTY — An Ohio-based company that offers gift checks for retailers abruptly closed Thursday, leaving West Michigan chambers of commerce, merchants and shoppers fuming and searching for answers.
Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, said up to $150,000 worth of gift checks for "Muskegon Money" could still be unspent.
If that's the case, a myriad of shoppers are holding checks that are worthless — at least for now.
"We're freaking out," Larsen said. "We're freaking out because we're worried that someone is going to get stuck."

More will certainly come out of this story – if Certifichecks really has this many subscribers, gift cards and gift certificates are going to start bouncing all over the country.

Frozen blueberry price report + Eastern Washington Blueberry Workshop March 2009

As ever I am tracking the blueberry markets in anticipation of summer.

Frozen blueberries are selling at a steady clip, but carryover stocks from 2008’s crop are still huge, according to industry experts.

Sales seem to have picked up speed late last year, with warehouse stocks falling by 4 percent in October, 6 percent in November and 7 percent in December 2008, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

At 153.7 million pounds, year-end frozen blueberry inventories in 2008 were nonetheless 35 percent higher than in 2007 and 55 percent higher than in 2006.

“The movement has been decent. It’s just a lot of fruit that is still sitting in the freezer,” said small fruits analyst Rod Cook of Ag-View Consulting.

Cook notes prices for berries are down since harvest time:

“Sometimes it’s as big a challenge to get fruit into a freezer as anything else,” said Cook. “Some have been so full they haven’t been capable of taking additional fruit.”

The strong supply has depressed frozen blueberry prices, which now range from $0.80 to $1.05 per pound, he said. “The price has definitely retreated from harvest time, 20 cents or more.”

You can hear more on the Oregon blueberry market prospects for 2009 at the Eastern Washington Blueberry Workshop March 12, 2009 in Prosser, WA, free to the first 80 advance registrants.

ps. how do you get the title “Blueberry marketing expert”? sign me up!

On wandering into someone else’s wiki

Every once in a while you find a smallish wiki that looks like it's healthy and has interesting material.  These wikis are bigger than the single person brain-dump, and smaller than Wikipedia, and less abandoned than most temporary bouts of enthusiasm that bring people into wiki-land.

Inevitably when I find one of these I have the urge to edit and organize just long enough to figure out what kind of stuff is in it.  Sometimes the wiki authors so much assume that everyone knows what some key terms or concepts are, and so those things never get their own pages until you wander in and link them.  Other times the wiki authorship collectively is so interesting in making links to things that they never manage to get around to putting pages at the other end of the links.  Doing a round of edits to random pages to try to improve them just enough to make sense of them is a way to figure out whether you want to wrap your brain more about the topic.

Wikipedia, in its timeless charmless categorical imperative way, calls the sort of people who wander into a wiki and start tidying things up as WikiGnomes.  This is a passive-aggressive way of saying "who the hell are you and why are you editing all of these pages and not adding anything to them".   If someone else calls you that, step back and head back to your blog.  The other term of art for this is "Wiki gardening", which implies some low-level drone job pulling weeds and fixing other people's punctuation, which also completely misses the point.

Sometimes, in order to make your own sense of something, you have to change it and see if it changes back after you touch it.

(Written on the occasion of wandering into the Code4Lib wiki, making a dozen changes, and stepping back.)

Borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 90s at Slate

Slate's Farhad Manjoo wonders what the fuss was all about of the Internet of 1996:

I started thinking about the Web of yesteryear after I got an e-mail from an idly curious Slatecolleague: What did people do online back whenSlate launched, he wondered? After plunging into the Internet Archive and talking to several people who were watching the Web closely back then, I've got an answer: not very much.

Once you get past the "oh ha ha dancing cats" attitude of the article, you discover that the preserved online record of the World Wide Web circa 1996 is incomplete (at least as seen via the Internet Archive) and there's really not that much to explain why people were interested in it.  That's true especially if you constrain your view only to things that you can find now that were web based:

Some of Yahoo's 1996-era front pages have been saved in the Internet Archive. What's interesting about them is what they lack. First, no e-mail: The first webmail site, Hotmail,launched in July of 1996. There was no instant-messaging software; the first big IM client, ICQ, hit the Web early in 1997.

This would be sad if it were true, but it's not true.

Email has been around for a long time (since 1975 or so), and in 1996 companies like Netcom were selling dial-up Internet connections just as fast as they could install modems to serve the demand.  Netcom's NetCruiser software was state of the art, and it had wide support for the popular stuff of the day:

NetCruiser for the Mac will include support for GIF and JPEG image formats and drag-and-drop support. NetCruiser also includes access to the Web, email, Usenet newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Gopher, ftp, and Telnet.

If Slate can't remember what the net was like back when it was doubling every six months, that's a reflection of the poor physical record that the virtual world has left behind.

More discussion at Techmeme

Trenary Outhouse Races 2009 – “Haul Your Arse to the Sweetest 16th Ever” – Feb 28, 2009

In Trenary, MI each year, when it's cold and snowy, they hold a race to see who can push an outhouse on skis (suitably decorated) the fastest down Main Street.

Past year's coverage:

2008: Trenary Outhouse Classic – Races show Yooper spirit from the Mining Journal's Winter Visitor's Guide has an interview with athlete Tom Felty

Tom said he built the outhouse in his yard back home and described it as a “conversation piece.”
Some of the outhouses built by competitors over the years were simple, stripped-down units built solely for the race. Others were quite elaborate and could be used for their original purpose.
“There ain’t nothing like this in Indy,” Tom Feltny said. “It’s something different. The first year I was here for it, I didn’t race. The next year I decided I better do it.”

Northern Michigan University's Military Science Department ROTC unit participated:

NMU ROTC participated in the 15th Annual Trenary Outhouse Race this Sat. 24 Feb. Members from the Wildcat Battalion had to created a wooden outhouse to compete in this local event. Their creation won first place in the design category. However, like the Jamacian Bobsled Team in the 1988 Winter Olympics, they sadly did not place as well as they planned or hoped in the actual race.

You do have to see it for yourself.

How to get invited to conferences

Brian Marick on How to get invited to conferences:

Someone asked me for advice on how to get invited to speak at conferences.  Key advice:

    • become a valuable participant in a niche field,
    • grow along with the niche,
    • become a good speaker.

  There's more, of course; there's always more; it's a good discussion of how he found a growing niche and helped popularize it in part by viewing things from a novel perspective.

That discussion pointed to this essay by Phil Agre on How To Be A Leader In Your Field (2005), aimed at grad students.  He has a six part recipe (more pointless numbered lists; but you understand that as a grounding principle) on how to do it.  Starkly abstracted:
  1. Pick an issue. You need an issue that the profession as a whole is not really thinking about, but which is going to be the center of attention in five years. 

  2. Having chosen your issue, start a project to study it. 
  3. Find relevant people and talk to them. First do your library work so you know any conventional wisdom that's out there. Then talk to some working professionals who are facing the issue, especially if they have spoken publicly about an aspect of it. 
  4. Pull together what you've heard. Nobody is expecting you to solve the problems. 
  5. Circulate the result. Send copies to the people who helped you. Call it a draft or interim report if you want. Give credit to the people whose ideas you've written down. Then follow up. 
  6. Build on your work. Get invited to speak at meetings. Correspond with people who have contacted you after reading your work.   

Note that Agre's list has five steps before the "speak at meetings", and that Marick's list only has  two; you can chalk up most of that to the need in grad school to engage in more ritual behavior vs. the practitioner who is just looking to talk about something novel to the people who want to hear something novel.

I write about this stuff all the time, because in part I think about the tag line this blog has now ("I am a leader by default, because nature abhors a vacuum") and how it reflects on the leadership role of seeing something not yet there and working at it until it is real enough for others to take as their own.  Hard to say that this is an easy path to do – if you are too scatterbrained you have dozens of projects that are not quite full formed and you never get to the expert level – but there is something to be said for the notion that this is something which you or anyone can do by simple application of diligence and leverage in some small gap in the structure of how the world currently is.