Sunday, May 31, 2009

CafePress - Sign of the Times

I've known about CafePress for years. I think it's a genius way of running a "user generated content" business. They handle all of the logistics, manufacturing, customer relations and finance. You provide the content. I think it's a model of how to leverage a core competency of manufacturing, and I'd love to see similar businesses in other areas.

To try it out, I took a quote from a great artist and photographer friend of mine, Rob Shaer, and turned it into a collection of stuff. The quote, which I thought was a brilliant summation of how much things have changed in the past three years is:

"Is it possible to have work-life balance without the work?"

Overall the process is pretty smooth, although it was several hours of work to come up with a design, do all the Photoshop fiddling, make two version (depending on landscape or portrait mode), and then create the right sizes for each of the scores of items offered.

I thought about taking silly things down (like the intimate underwear), but it was going to be more work to filter everything, and besides, maybe someone will want them.

Overall, I was impressed with the process and big thumbs up to the CafePress team for putting together a great site. I'll track the performance over the next few months, but if you are interested, or know of some soul run over by the train wreck of this economy who might be cheered up, be sure to purchase something and I'll let people know how it turned out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WTF? The baddest green machine out there.

This weekend I came across the ultimate in mixed branding - the Hybrid Escalade. With a hybrid option to the standard Cadillac Escalade, it is now possible to eek out an astonishing 20 MPG out of this 8 passenger transport. With a base price of $74k (as opposed to the base of $63k for the regular Escalade) this might master from Detroit certainly targets the upper income range for car purchasers. From a fuel consumption point of view, the improvement, as I understand it, is somewhere from 14mpg to 20mpg - or about 6mpg. At 15,000 miles/year, this is 321 gallons/year savings. At $3/gallon, that's $963/year, which would probably not make this justify the price premium.

But the real question is: does the "Hybrid" badge do anything, from a marketing point of view? Most hybrids have a halo effect (and, if you can drive in the carpool lane, a time-saving benefit as well). With the MANY "Hybrid" badges plastered on this vehicle, clearly the hybridization matters, but reaction from many indicates that this vehicle is more one of amazement and scorn.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Too soon

Kyle Swanson, a co-worker of mine from AeroVironment, passed away recently. He was 43 years old.

Aside from the terrible shock of one so young being taken from us, Kyle in addition was one of the instrumental players in launching AeroVironment's unmanned aerial vehicle product line. I had the privilege of riding the tsunami that was the growth of this division when I first joined AV, and helped start up their production facility, their Logistics organization and their Training organization.

He was incredibly energetic and enthusiastic, and passionate about what he did. The greatest thing for a person to have done is to have done something that mattered, and to have made a difference in the world. Kyle has done this, and all those who remember him, and thousands who never met him have been, or will continue to be, affected by all that he has accomplished.

I was struck at how someone whose enthusiasm could even exceed my own, how someone so full of life could now no longer be with us. My thoughts are with those who remain, who struggle with their loss. May they find comfort in the knowledge that those of us fortunate enough to have known Kyle are all the better for it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fusion! Creeping back?

Watch CBS Videos Online
60 Minutes recently ran a very interesting story about Nuclear Fusion. While the science of the video is very thin (hey, they only had 12 minutes!) the clear story is that it is slowly becoming acceptable to work on nuclear fusion technologies.

Recently I spoke with the CEO of General Fusion, a Vancouver based company. The founders come from CREO, a company with impressive technical pedigree, and they are working on an interesting fusion concept, shown here.

Basically, as I understand it, they have a spherical container with many pneumatic rams. The rams all fire simultaneously, creating a spherical shockwave that implodes upon itself. At the center of the sphere, the wave collapses, creating astronomical pressures, and fusion.

Unlike many crackpot energy stories I hear involving perpetual motion machines, what intrigues me about nuclear fusion is that it actually works. It's just that the engineering is really, really hard. However, the difference between "really hard" and "impossible" is non-trivial.

So, I for one remain interested in this space. However, I don't know if it is going to be always decades away. I hope not, however, I'd welcome others' comments on viability and practicality.