Guntry Clubs

Monday, January 19th, 2015

The trend in shooting ranges is toward high-end guntry clubs:

The high-end ranges come as the $15 billion gun industry’s sales have more than doubled since 2005. Fears of regulations with a Democrat in the Oval Office have juiced much of that growth, which is now leveling out. But experts also say an industry shift away from hunting culture has helped spawn a new generation of firearms enthusiasts buying up sleekly designed handguns and AR-15 rifles for tactical shooting practice.

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry. Shooters spend $10 billion a year on target shooting, including the cost of firearms, ammunition and range fees.

Those demographics and economics are attracting investors without firearms industry backgrounds; they see ranges as a new place to employ their cash. Elite Shooting Sports, a nearly $14 million project, has investors from the electronics industry. Real estate, finance, hotel and auto industry executives have backed other new ranges.

Bluefin Tuna Sold for $37,500

Friday, January 9th, 2015

The Japanese treasure the rich red meat of hon-maguro, and a single bluefin tuna can sell for $1.5 million, or $3,000 a pound — as a publicity stunt. This year one sold for “just” $37,500:

A sushi restaurant chain owner paid ¥4.51 million ($37,500) for a 180 kilogram Bluefin tuna at the first auction of the year in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.

Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Co., has won the year’s first bid for four consecutive years since 2012. He told reporters Monday after his purchase that it was cheaper than he had expected thanks to a successful haul of tuna near the Tsugaru strait this year.

While $37,500 may seem too much to pay for a fish, it is a bargain compared to what Mr. Kimura had to spend in 2013.

In January 2012, Mr. Kimura won the bid at the first tuna auction of the year for $736,700. He then paid $1.76 million for a 222 kilogram tuna in January 2013, which remains an all-time record.

Deadliest Jobs

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Four to five thousand American workers die from injuries on the job each year, with the most dangerous jobs in logging, fishing, and piloting:

Some occupations that seem dangerous, like firefighting and tractor operation, are actually relatively safe; both of those jobs, for example, are less dangerous than being a car mechanic. Some of the safest jobs of all, with less than 10 deaths among all full-time workers, include computer and mathematical professions, and legal occupations.

Forty-one percent of all fatal workplace injuries happened in transportation incidents, which include car accidents, overturned vehicles and plane crashes. More than half (58%) of the 1,789 fatal transportation-related incidents occurred on highways, and involved motorized land vehicles.

The second-highest cause of worker fatalities was assaults and violent acts, which accounted for 18% of deaths. The preliminary data shows that workplace suicides fell slightly in 2010 to 258 after climbing to a high of 263 the year before.

Violence took the lives of 767 workers last year; with 463 homicides and 225 suicides. (Work-related suicides declined by 10% from 2011 totals, but violence accounted for about 17% of all fatal work injuries in 2012.) Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in both.

Slips, falls and trips killed 668 workers in 2012–about 15% of all workplace injuries. A total of 509 workers were fatally injured after being struck by equipment or objects on the job.

There were 142 multiple-fatality incidents–incidents where more than one worker was killed–in 2012, in which 341 workers died.

Ninety-two percent, or 4,045 of all on-the-job fatalities were among men, and the remaining 8%, or 338, were women.

The New Wave of Graphic Novels

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Graphic-novel sales are outpacing the overall trade-book market, and their audience has expanded to include more women and younger readers, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Graphic-novel sales increased 4% to $415 million in 2013, including comics stores, bookstores and online booksellers but excluding e-books. Preliminary data indicate that in 2014 graphic-novel sales grew at an even faster clip, according to Milton Griepp, a market analyst and CEO of the trade publication ICv2.

By contrast, overall print-book sales through retail stores and book clubs fell by 2.5% to 501.6 million units in 2013, following a blockbuster year in 2012, according to a Publisher’s Weekly analysis of data from Nielsen BookScan.

[...]

Graphic novels also lend themselves beautifully to being read on tablets such as iPads — and even smartphones. Digital sales for comics and graphic novels totaled $90 million in 2013 compared with $70 million in 2012.

Auftragstaktik

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

With Auftragstaktik, or “mission orders,” the leader disseminates his authority with the mission, David Grossman (On Killing) explains, and the piece of authority that is passed down with the mission empowers subordinates at all levels:

Patton understood this concept when he directed his subordinates to tell their men what to do but not how to do it, and then to “let them amaze you with their ingenuity.” A subordinate leader who is told precisely how to do something no longer has any obligation, accountability, or even legitimacy in accomplishing the task by an alternative method when the initial plan becomes impractical. Auftragstaktik empowers aggressive behavior by:

Increasing the proximity and number of authority figures. Ideally, under Auftragstaktik, every soldier becomes an obedience-demanding authority. The last line of the U.S. Army Ranger Creed is “I will go on to accomplish the mission, though I be the lone survivor.” That mentality, and the cultivation of subordinate leaders and soldiers who can make it come alive, is the ultimate objective of Auftragstaktik.

Increasing a subordinate’ subjective respect for the authority figure, since the authority and initiative of the highest commander have been passed to the lowest subordinate.

Increasing the authority figure’s demands for killing behavior. Since the subordinate
leader becomes the originator of his own set of mission orders, which are built upon the
framework of his superior’s mission orders (as opposed to being an errand boy simply passing down messages from on high), he accepts ownership of the mission and becomes strongly invested in demanding mission accomplishment from his subordinates.

Increasing the legitimacy of the authority and the demands of subordinate leaders by
institutionalizing a process in which it is the norm for subordinates to assume broad discretion and flexibility. Only then will you have a true, pervasive, mission orders environment.

Between Subject and Victim

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

One of the most powerful forms of “distance” on the battlefield is created by placing subordinates between the subject and the victim, David Grossman (On Killing) suggests:

Thus, a leader who does not have to do the killing himself is enabled (by physical and psychological distance) to “demand” aggressive behavior of his subordinates, and subordinates are enabled by the leader’s demands.

The same thing works in business. Always. Be. Closing.

Does Skin and Hair Tone Affect Disney Princesses Merchandise Sales?

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Does skin and hair tone affect Disney princesses merchandise sales? This info graphic suggests so:

does-skin-and-hair-tone-affect-disney-princesses-m-1415022214.9-9069229

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Making Bets All Along

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Henry Blodget interviews Jeff Bezos, opening with, what the hell happened with the Fire phone?

First of all, it’s really early. We’ve had a lot of things we’ve had to iterate on at Amazon. You may remember something called Auctions that didn’t work out very well. Z Shops morphed out of that. Then we launched Marketplace, which became our third-party seller business, which now represents 40% of units sold on Amazon. That’s a great business.

If you look at our device portfolio broadly, our hardware team is doing a great job. The Kindle is now on its seventh generation. The Kindle Voyage, the new premium product, is just completely killer. Fire TV, Fire TV Stick — we’re having trouble building enough. Amazon Echo, which we just launched. So there’s a lot of activity going on in our device business. With the phone, I just ask you to stay tuned.

So, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Bezos segues into how one of his jobs is to encourage people to be bold:

It’s incredibly hard. Experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure. A few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work. Bold bets — Amazon Web Services, Kindle, Amazon Prime, our third-party seller business — all of those things are examples of bold bets that did work, and they pay for a lot of experiments.

What really matters is, companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail. I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets. That’s when you’re desperate. That’s the last thing you can do.

Looney Balloons

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Google’s far-fetched Project Loon seems to be working:

[A]s you read this, some 75 Google balloons are airborne, hovering somewhere over the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, automatically adjusting their altitudes according to complex algorithms in order to catch wind currents that will keep them on course. By next year, Google believes it will be able to create a continuous, 50-mile-wide ring of Internet service around the globe. And by 2016, Project Loon director Mike Cassidy anticipates the first customers in rural South America, Southern Africa, or Oceania will be able to sign up for cellular LTE service provided by Google balloons. (Google is starting in the far Southern Hemisphere, which is relatively sparsely populated, before expanding elsewhere.)

It took a while to get going though:

On the first try, the balloon burst not long after liftoff, the nylon fabric overmatched by the 100,000 pounds of pressure within. The same happened on the second try, and the third—and the next 50 after that. The team kept tweaking the fabric and reinforcing it with more Kevlar-like ropes, but the balloons kept bursting until they got the length of the ropes exactly right. (They had to be shorter than the fabric to relieve the pressure, but not too much shorter.)

“We knew it was hard to make a super-pressure balloon,” Cassidy recalls. “We didn’t think it would take us 61 attempts until we succeeded.”

Even then, the success was short-lived. Instead of bursting, the balloon slowly leaked helium, bringing it down after just a day or two in flight. “Even a millimeter-sized hole will bring a balloon like this down in a couple days,” Cassidy says. “And that’s what happened to the next 40 or 50 balloons we made.”

Google’s engineers spent weeks trying to isolate the problem. They took balloons out of their boxes and inflated them in a cavernous hangar at Moffett Field in Mountain View, shined polarized light through them, and even sniffed for helium leaks using a mass spectrometer. Each balloon that went down was subjected to a “failure analysis” that included poring over meticulous records of who had assembled it, where, and using what equipment, and how it had been transported.

Eventually they pinned the leaks on two sets of problems. One was that the balloons had to be folded several times over to be transported, and some developed tiny tears at the corners where they’d been folded repeatedly. Google set to work finding ways to fold and roll the balloons that would distribute the stress more evenly across the fabric.

The second problem was that some balloons were ripping slightly when workers stepped on the fabric with their socks. The solution to that problem? “Fluffier socks,” says Cassidy. “Seriously, that made a difference. Softer socks meant fewer leaks.”

As the team cut down on the leaks, the balloons started lasting longer: four days, then six, then several weeks at a time. As of November, Cassidy says, two out of every three balloons remain in the sky for at least 100 days.

But keeping the balloons airborne is only the first of the monumental problems that the project presented. Keeping them on course may be even harder.

Why do this again?

Providing Internet via a fleet of algorithmically directed balloons might sound prohibitively expensive, but Cassidy says it’s actually an order of magnitude cheaper than setting up and maintaining cell towers, making it more economically viable in remote regions.

Outside Marksmen

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

One of the prison assets Carl from Chicago went to audit turned out to be a sniper rifle:

These guns were kept in storage at the armory, and they brought out the sniper to show me the weapon himself because they didn’t let other people touch it after he had calibrated the scope. The sniper asked me a question:

Do you know why they pick snipers out of the staff in the prison?

No, I said.

Because in Attica there was an uprising and the prisoners took over the yard and then the prison brought in outside marksmen to ensure they could not escape. During the melee the marksmen shot many prisoners but it turns out that the prisoners had changed clothes with the civilian hostages, so some of the individuals gunned down were actual guards or workers. Thus the snipers were prison guards from that facility because they could pick out the inmates from the guards and workers.

I said that if he ever saw me in his scope wearing an orange outfit, please don’t shoot. It wasn’t a joke.

Randomly Selected Assets

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

When Carl from Chicago was first auditing the assets of the famous prison in Joliet, Illinois — where The Blues Brothers was filmed — he decided to use his judgment about which assets to check:

Typically you “randomly select” assets from the asset listing, take a statistically significant sample (perhaps 20-50 items), and draw conclusions about the whole pool of assets based on whether you were able to find the selected assets in the location where they were said to reside. I did this at first and the results came up with many assets titled “XXX-780? and I asked the accountants working for the facility what they were. The accountants said that these were individual prisoner beds and that was the cell number and the way to audit those assets would be to go in and unlock the cells and I could flip up the bed and check the number. I thought about this for a few minutes and then said “f&ck this” and decided that I would use “judgement” to select my assets instead of the random method and I selected 30 assets myself for my project.

Cirque du Soleil’s Next Act: Rebalancing the Business

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Cirque du Soleil’s next act, the Wall Street Journal reports, will be rebalancing the business:

Cirque du Soleil grew out of Montreal’s street performer scene in the 1980s, helped by early government funding as banks were reluctant to support the band of fire eaters, stilt walkers and clowns. The company’s reinvention of the traditional North American circus — creating theatrical spectacles drawing on Russian and Chinese influences and commedia dell’arte — proved popular on foreign tours. Revenues skyrocketed after a particularly favorable Las Vegas casino deal.

By the end of 2011, Cirque had 22 shows — seven of them in Las Vegas. It had built a 388,000 square foot headquarters in Montreal, much of the building taken up by the costume department that outfits performers in fantastical hand-painted clothes.

Near the peak of the company’s revenues, in August 2008, Mr. Laliberté agreed to sell 20% of the company to Dubai government-owned real estate companies for $545 million, pocketing around $275 million at the time, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But the rapid expansion masked deeper troubles at Cirque. The 2008 transaction valued Cirque at $2.7 billion; five years later, Mr. Laliberté took back a portion of Dubai’s stake at a price that suggested Cirque’s value had declined around 20% to $2.2 billion.

Cirque continued to expand even as the recession cut into demand.

Cirque premiered 20 shows in the 23 years from 1984 through 2006, none of which closed during that time other than its first few. Over the next six years it opened 14 more shows, five of which flopped and closed early.

How to Train Your Voice to Be More Charismatic

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Researchers are studying how to train your voice to be more charismatic:

In his experiments, Dr. Signorello analyzed recordings of speeches by leaders speaking French, Italian and Portuguese, including François Hollande, the current president of France, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president of Brazil. He also studied speeches given by two Italian politicians, Umberto Bossi and Luigi de Magistris, and by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

To isolate acoustic properties, Dr. Signorello used a speech synthesizer to eliminate the actual meaning of the words being spoken. The frequency, intensity, cadence, duration and other vocal qualities remained intact.

Then, to understand how acoustic traits affected perceptions, Dr. Signorello and his colleagues asked 107 female and 26 male volunteers to rate a speaker’s charisma on a scale using 67 positive or negative adjectives, ranging from eloquent and bewitching to egocentric and menacing. To ensure that only perceptions of vocal qualities were measured, they also had the Italian speeches rated by 48 people who didn’t speak Italian, and the French speeches rated by 48 people who didn’t speak French.

Generally, someone speaking in a low-pitched voice is always perceived as big and dominant, while someone speaking in a high voice is perceived as small and submissive. When speaking to crowds, the political leaders typically stretched their voices to extremes, with a wide range of frequency variation, Dr. Signorello said.

“In the three languages, I see a similar pattern,” he said. “My research shows that charismatic leaders of any type in any culture tend to stretch their voice to the lower and higher limits during a public speech, which is the most important and risky context of communication for leadership,” he said.

These leaders adopted an entirely different tone when speaking to other high-ranking politicos or when the subject strayed from political topics. “They stretch their voice less when they speak to other leaders, keeping the vocal pitch very low. They stretch the voice limits even less when they speak about nonpolitical topics,” Dr. Signorello said.

In one experiment, he found he could change the way people perceived President Hollande of France by artificially dialing the pitch of his voice up or down.

Aspiring executives should take note, Dr. Signorello said. “The voice is a tool that can be trained,” he said. “Singers and actors train their voices to reach higher or lower frequencies. A leader-speaker should do the same.”

In another 10,000 years the Bene Gesserit will have mastered this.

End of Manually Operated Period

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

After the end of the Civil War, the US was at peace and had little use for new and improved weapons:

From Gatling’s original patent on 4 November 1862 to 26 June 1883, American supremacy in machine-gun design went unchallenged. It is of particular importance to note that from the adoption of the Gatling gun by our Army until the conclusion of this era, there was no threat of war to our country. This disproves the pacifist’s claim that once any nation has fully developed a superior weapon, war is inevitable to prove its effectiveness.

In this peaceful era, the Navy demanded perfection from the weapons tried. Some of the requirements placed upon these guns seem impossible when compared with our present-day system of testing.

It should be especially noted that at this time a Naval Acceptance Board functioned. This body of officers had the responsibility of seeing that any gun inventor could bring his invention to trial for purposes of adoption, and of extending to him all assistance possible to make his weapon reliable and effective. In fact, some of the suggestions offered helped in no small way the phenomenal success the guns later enjoyed.

The intense and wholehearted cooperation of these officers not only contributed to the mechanical accomplishments of the weapon under test, but undoubtedly furnished the inventor an incentive, since he knew that these officers would give him all the help in their power. That this procedure paid big dividends can best be judged by comparing these 21 years of progress with any other period in the continuous effort to produce weapons.

The establishment by the Navy in 1872 of the Experimental Battery at Annapolis, Md., showed the farsightedness of the officers responsible for weapon development. This facility handled all the firing of prototype weapons. And certain defects, inevitably present during initial firing tests, were required to be remedied before the weapon was allowed to go before the board for final trial at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. The unbelievable performances of machine guns tested there was due to their having previously been fired under the expert supervision of Naval officers at the Experimental Battery. Many of the defects were eliminated that would otherwise have caused the weapon to fail during the rigorous acceptance trials demanded by the Navy.

Some of the official records from these two firing ranges of the Navy reveal performances that no modern fiction writer would dare to credit to the present-day machine gun; yet they were actual accomplishments of this era.

Incidentally the Experimental Battery at Annapolis was the pioneer Naval Proving Ground. In 1890 it was moved to a new tract overlooking the Potomac River at Indian Head, Md., and in 1921 the present Naval Proving Ground was opened at Dahlgren, Va.

Though these tests helped gun design, they did not enrich the designer. One fact, standing out above all others, is that during this era a successful machine gun inventor was compelled to go abroad to market his weapon, although in every instance it was first offered to his Government.

While the United States had no need, and no immediate prospect, of using these superb weapons, foreign governments not only recognized their superiority, but made every possible overture to induce the inventors to leave home and market their discoveries abroad. With no incentive in this country to warrant any other choice, a steady trek of gun geniuses left America for Europe to establish factories–not only taking with them the “know-how” and top talent of the gun profession, but, in most instances, staffing their foreign factories with the highest skilled Yankee machinists they were able to hire. Their services were thus lost forever to their own country. And the factories they established abroad have been there so long that today they are thought to be of foreign origin, when in reality they were started by skilled American citizens, building a product unwanted at home. Necessity alone placed them on foreign soil to design and perfect the deadliest known instrument of war–the machine gun.

The weapons of this quarter century were all manually operated. Since it was always necessary for a gunner to aim the piece, there seemed no reason why he should not also furnish the power to feed and fire the gun. Mechanical advantage was utilized to enable the individual soldier to maintain sustained fire with a minimum effort.

During the latter part of this era, the weapons reached such a high degree of efficiency it was predicted there was nothing left to be improved. They were accepted as “invincible reapers of death.”

As has been the case throughout weapon history, when perfection in the nth degree seems accomplished, an “impossible” principle is suddenly made to work. Past ideas, years of heartbreaking effort, and standards of perfection are outmoded overnight; yesterday’s invincible weapon is today’s obsolete scrap.

Industrial By-Products of the Gun Trade

Friday, November 28th, 2014

In order to speed up and to economize on weapon production, gun-makers conceived and perfected machine tools, which proved useful in other industries:

In the history of weapon progress, the advent of the machine age rivals the discovery of gunpowder. Power tools accomplished the impossible with the guns of the day, and opened means for the progressive inventor to write an unequaled chapter of development.

The influence of machine tools in modern life is little appreciated by the average person. The New York Museum of Science and Industry has on its wall a panel stating that the origin of machine tools has made possible all generated light, heat, and power; all modern transportation by rail, water, and air; all forms of electric communication; and has likewise caused to be produced all the machinery used in agriculture, textiles, printing, paper making, and all the instruments used in every science. “Everything we use at work, at home, at play, is either a child or a grandchild of a machine tool.” But the Adam and Eve of the machine tool, and its application to mass production, were the early Connecticut and Massachusetts gunsmiths.

Good mechanics have been found in every nation, yet for some reason, most of the important machine tools used throughout the world originated in only two places: Great Britain and New England. The English craftsmen, traditionally lovers of the hand-finished product, benefited little from this fact. They have furnished no serious competition in this field since the 1850′s when undisputed leadership shifted to New England. This section of the United States became, practically, a manufacturing arsenal. Its mechanics were recognized as the world’s best. In fact, some of their contributions to the power tool industry have affected the course of history more through industrial progress than their fine weapons did on the battlefield.

Among the little-known inventions of these men can be found the first milling machine with a power feed which was devised by the original Eli Whitney; it was the direct predecessor of what is known today as the power miller. Christopher M. Spencer, who was noted for his repeating rifles, patented a great improvement on the drop hammer, and perfected a cam control, or “brain wheel,” whereby the operation of lathes was made automatic. This invention was one of the few for which the original drawing was so perfectly devised that it is still used today. Another gunsmith, Henry Stone, developed the turret principle for lathes. The high speed automatic lathe of today is a combination of the work of Spencer and Stone. The two men originated many improvements which extend from farm machinery to silk winding machines, but their first success was in weapon design.

Francis A. Pratt was one of the best designers of machine tools. After founding the Pratt & Whitney Co. for manufacturing guns, he found other products so profitable that, today, few people know of the influence of firearms on this outstanding manufacturing concern.

Asa Cook, a brother-in-law of Pratt, and a former Colt mechanic, was the inventor and manufacturer of machines to make screws and bolts automatically. Eli J. Manville, a former Pratt & Whitney engineer, established with his five sons at Waterbury, Conn., a plant which has been conspicuous in the design of presses, bolt headers, and thread rollers for the brass industry.

The arms plants proved training schools for inventors. Guns were made as long as profitable, but with changing times these versatile men began to make things entirely unrelated to firearms. Many became so successful in other manufacturing ventures that today it is often hard to associate a large telescope company or a successful sewing machine plant with its original founder, a master craftsman, working patiently on the development of a new firearm. Yet the fact still remains that American domination of manufacturing “know how” came largely from the honest effort of gun producers just before the Civil War to compete with each other in providing the world’s finest weapons.

It did not take long for American gun makers to carry the gospel of machine tool performance across the seven seas. As early as 1851, a Vermont firm showed at a London fair guns with interchangeable components manufactured by mass production methods. The British government was so impressed that it ordered the making of 20,000 Enfield rifles in American factories by this method. Three years later Great Britain ordered from the company that made these weapons 157 gun milling machines, which were the first automatic tools to be used in Europe. Among them was the eccentric lathe invented by Thomas Blanchard of the Springfield Armory. This device allowed wooden gun stocks to be machine carved with great rapidity in lieu of the laborious hand method formerly employed. The machine turned out irregular (eccentric) forms, from patterns, with automatic speed and precision; and has undergone practically no change in design since it was invented by Blanchard. Like innumerable other weapon-inspired tools, it contributed not only to American domination of the armament business but also helped to reshape the entire structure of the manufacturing world.