Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things Aren't Tough All Over: Hedge Fund Elites Reap Billions in '08

Despite a year-long global economic meltdown that only got worse as the year wore on, the world's 25 most successful hedge fund managers raked in a total of $11.6 billion in 2008 — their third best haul this decade. The secret to their success? Well, some of it is a secret. But if you guessed big bets against banks and the housing market you'd be on the right track.

Topping the list is former math professor James Simons, won’t discuss his strategy (really?) except to say that it is based on "rapid-fire trading across almost every possible market and that it relies on computer-driven programs designed by an army of more than 100 PhDs," according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, which has kept this score for eight years.

Simons, who runs Renaissance Technologies Corp., made $2.5 billion in '08, a year in which even most hedge funds lost money. Forget about trying to get in now; it's been closed to new investors since 2002.

(Continue Reading at Epicenter)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Test Ride: Even in New York, the Aptera Stops Traffic

If the Tesla Roadster is sex on wheels, the Aptera 2e is like making out with the cute woman down the hall: It's a lot of fun and you want to do it again soon.

Tooling around New York in the funky three-wheeled EV is an odd experience where everything on the road slows down to check you out, when cab drivers not only obey traffic laws, they let you violate them at their expense, and New Yorkers — who pride themselves on being nonchalant about everything — stop dead in their tracks and ask, "Does it fly?"

No, the 2e does not fly. But it might as well for all the attention it draws.

The thing is, everybody knows the dirty little secret about cars: The real test isn’t how much tech it has or how fast it goes or how green it is or how many cup holders there are. The real test, especially for something so outlandish as an EV with three wheels and two seats, is this: Is it really a car, would you be caught dead parking it at work and what is the head-turning quotient?

My answers for the 2e are: "Yes," "yes" and "off the charts."

(Continued reading at Autopia)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Media Death March: Seattle P-I Stops Printing, Goes All-In Online

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishes its last dead-tree edition Tuesday, the latest newspaper to succumb to the harsh realities of an internet economy where delivering bits is an increasingly inefficient way of delivering the news.

News of the P-I's decision to publish online only was telegraphed for weeks, and it follows the decision of the Rocky Mountain News to shutter completely, the Christian Science Monitor to publish online only starting next month and deep concessions by staff at another Hearst newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, to keep that newspaper afloat.

The owners put the newspaper up for sale on Jan. 9 and said they would shut it down if a buyer did not step forward. With a daily circulation of 117,000 the Seattle P-I is the largest daily to cease paper publication. The Christian Science Monitor is in 50k territory.

"Tonight we'll be putting the paper to bed for the last time," editor and publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. "But the bloodline will live on."

(continue reading on Epicenter)

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Monday, March 9, 2009

What's Your Name Again, Fella?

Another cruel reminder.

Via TweepRoll.

Baby, You Can Drive My Carr

There's going to be plenty of pushback on Alan Carr's NYT piece about how to save the newspaper, so I'll keep this short and sweet:
  • Any industry which says it can only be saved by collusion is suspect on its face. Any decent journalist would scream bloody murder if that was suggested by, say, the financial services industry or the airlines or — closer to home — a Starbucks/Caribou cartel.
  • The excellent examples of fee-based online services Carr cites cover niche topics, not geographical communities (except for The Arkansas Gazette, which gives away aggregator-length snippets). Odd argument, since these publications are doing exactly what newspapers aren't doing, by organizing around subjects rather than territory and not making me subsidize sports coverage I don't want. (Carr left out the Financial Times, which charges more than any of his examples and has an even more narrowly-defined clientelle.)
  • Google doesn't need you. Repeat: Google doesn't need you. You, however, might need Google, or something very much like it which tells people who have never heard of you that you've done some excellent work today. What percentage of your traffic comes from the homepage, again?
  • Aggregators do more than build "audiences and brands on other people’s labors." They provide a service readers find compelling. What is that? Brevity? Greater variety? Better writing? Decent design? No registration speedbumps? Rather than bemoan the success of a competitor one might copy it. And, while we're at it, how exactly do you shut down aggregators when you can't own the facts, whatever else you do to build paywalls?
News gatherers are correct to assert that they do heavy lifting, and I, too, fear a scenario in which news gathering is divorced from news publishing, and the latter is controlled by entities with no journalistic tradition. So, news gathering has to be saved. But newspapers? The "What to do" argument is misplaced if it depends on anti-competitive behavior and taking out your frustrations on a medium. It's like arguing that gravity is bad.

There is a way out of this, but it requires a tremendous re-think and the wholesale abandonment of pet notions and even a loss of the trappings of power. Newspapers have been threatened for generations and were handed a gift in the internet — a way to increase audience and finally compete with television (a previous bogey man) on television's own terms, for one thing. But rather than capitalize on this and think different 15 years ago newspaper owners have acted more like their illusory monopoly on an audience was a birthright and all they had to do was shovel everything online because that is what they had and we liked it and where are you going to go, anyway?

Sounds like self-satisfied inertia of the Big Three automakers, who are only now acting as if they have found religion after watching their competitors prepare for the obvious, inevitable paradigm shift when times were good (or at least better). Whose fault is it that newspapers are more like Detroit than Silicon Valley, or even Bangalore?

To survive, newspapers have to organize around an entirely different set of principles rather than try to push the illogical premise that the one-to-many bits model is the only way to save journalism. That's not only bad business, it's bad reporting.