Friday, September 29, 2006

Engadget Meetup: Boston -- Get Your Geek On...

Out with CHEN PR VP, Kevin Kosh and Principal, Chris Carleton

Hello, my name is Kevin and I'’m a gadget addict. And a lot of people with a similar makeup were out in force last night as guests at an event hosted by Engadget -- a self-described "“web magazine with obsessive daily coverage of everything new in gadgets and consumer electronics."

As with many events filled with self-effacing technophiles, there were plenty of jokes about the crowd looking like they came from Star Trek and Star Wars conventions, prompting one person to say, "“but it'’s not as bad, because they have costumes."” Although one could argue that from Firefox T-shirts, to tablet PCs and every manner of digital photography device, the gadget addicts were suited up for battle...

Also indicative of the humor, in a contest segment that included some incredibly creative and well produced Engadget ads by loyal users, one ad called Engadget "porn for geeks,"” to which one of the Engadget founders quipped, "“I actually thought porn was porn for geeks?"

All joking aside, there was a palpable excitement and a childhood wonder in the air (regardless of age -- and the ages ranged from what looked like 17 to well into the 50s) that you were getting an exclusive backstage pass to see what'’s next. Like a golden ticket into Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory (Gene Wilder's, not Johnny Depp'’s). It wasn’'t about celebrity, big money, or even necessarily the bleeding edge technical elite, it was about a shared experience accessible to all. And to be honest, the energy in this small room surpassed some of the largest tradeshows I'’ve attended. They covered topics from Microsoft's Zune media player, to Vista, to other trends in personal entertainment. They even touched upon the massive recalls prompted by exploding batteries in many of the devices covered by Engadget.

In fact, the Engadget event was only partially about cool technology. Arguably, it was more about the "“social"” in social networking. Sponsoring vendors including Sonos, Sling Media, and Slim Devices, displayed -- and even raffled off -- some really cool products, but in an informal setting over a beer and munchies, and without a hard sell. Apart from that and a brief Q&A session with Editor-in-Chief Peter Rojas the event was unremarkable in terms of structure. Actually, the Q&A suffered from AV issues and only one microphone with questions yelled out over the crowd. While the skeptical among us might suggest that was intentional to preserve an underground/ad hoc feeling of the event, the net of Engadget's meetup was a resounding success and a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

BBJ Celebrates Local Healthcare Heroes

From CHEN PR Account Manager Juli Greenwood...

I’ve attended some feel-good industry events but never one quite like this.

Last week’s Champions in Health Care awards breakfast, hosted by the Boston Business Journal, celebrated our local health care heroes: doctors, nurses, administrators, community activists and innovators. I was attending in support of our client, Phase Forward and honoree in the Innovator category, Dr. Paul Bleicher, Phase Forward’s chairman and founder. A physician and investigator at Mass General Hospital, Paul was struck by how inefficient the clinical trials process had become – an idea that led to the founding of Phase Forward almost 10 years ago. Today, and with the technology shaped by Paul’s vision, the company is helping to improve the way clinical trial data is collected and analyzed, resulting in better, safer drugs that hit the market more quickly for the patients who so desperately need them.

And Paul was in good company.

Art Mellor was also honored in the Innovator category – a software engineer who when diagnosed with MS put his engineering and project management skills to work to develop the nation’s only MS Repository, a database where researchers can pool patient samples and research data and work collaboratively to find a cure. Larry Kessler was honored for lifetime achievement for his 20 years running the AIDS Action Committee, an organization that has helped more than 9,000 people in Massachusetts living with AIDS and HIV. Community Servings was honored for its meal delivery program. Since its launch in 1990 and with the help of more than 800 volunteers, it has served more than 2.85 million meals to its clients with life-threatening diseases – and they haven’t once missed a delivery.

While each had its own story, one thing remained consistent: vision on its own is meaningless without action, perseverance and hard work. This year’s honorees not only inspire with their unending desire to help those in need, but with their unrelenting efforts to make it so.

So thank you to the Boston Business Journal for celebrating these inspiring heroes. I was honored to attend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Greenspan on the Economy, Energy and SarbOx

When Alan Greenspan talks, people listen -- around 800 to 900 of them, at Mass TLC’s “A Conversation with Dr. Alan Greenspan,” held last night in Boston. Paul Deninger, Chairman of Jefferies Broadview technology investment banking group, played the role of inquisitor. Questions were submitted by email in advance.

Trivia for the day? Greenspan studied clarinet at Juilliard and is an accomplished sax player.

My favorite question:

PD: If you had a niece or nephew who was graduating now, what would you steer them toward? What sectors are growing?

AG: I’d tell them to own a hedge fund, or to pass a tin cup and start a private equity fund.

He went on to note that the area of intellectual property rights would be one to watch, saying, “The vast majority of the GDP is in ideas. When you get into the area of intellectual property rights, there are going to be some very significant issues. You cannot patent abstract ideas. What if Newton had patented calculus? What is open source, and what is not?”

Some other notable responses:

PD: What’s your current assessment of the economy?

AG: The economy is slowing down from its rapid pace in the first half of the year, so we have built-up inventories. But there’s no evidence of a real falloff in housing. There’s no underlying deterioration of the economy. The decline in gas prices is a very important influence on consumer spending. Globalization is a critical determinant of the economy. Right now, we’re seeing signs of modest pickup in Europe and Asia is booming. The real danger is events you can’t forecast, like 9/11 or Katrina.

(He expanded on the Chinese market.) China has been moving to capitalism without ever explicitly saying so. In November of last year, they hosted an international golf tournament with all the big names. No one seemed to think it was all that unusual. But golf is the quintessentially capitalist game.

PD: What about offshoring, outsourcing – Is that a good or bad thing for America?

AG: You have to ask: How have we benefited from this dramatic opening of the economy, via globalization? On average, salaries have benefited. There’s a premium on conceptual value added – that’s what we deliver today. The value of intellectual skills is rising, the value of physical labor is being devalued.

But our educational system is in deep trouble. There’s an annual Boston College survey of math and science students. Every year, our 4th grade students are excelling as compared to the rest of the world. By 12th grade, they’re at the bottom of the heap. Something is going terribly wrong in between. It’s not the kids, because in 4th grade, they’re fine. It’s the system.

So assuming you don’t get this solved, we’ve got to loosen up immigration for high tech. Someone who gets a PhD here is very unlikely to become a terrorist.

PD: Should we worry about China?

AG: So there are two questions behind that question. Should we worry about China as a military power that can confront us? Should we worry about China as an economic power?

The Chinese government’s best hope of maintaining power is to maintain the standard of living. The chances of militarism on the part of China have diminished. They are down the road of pursuing material well being.

PD: When do we lose our global hegemony?

AG: It depends on how you measure that. If you are talking about a nation’s GDP, of course China will surpass us at some point. But I don’t see anyone approaching us on per capital GDP.

At some point, we have to let creative destruction take over. It’s the mechanism by which our standard of living rises. We have to let our obsolescent industries fade, no matter their names. So when people say to me, “We’re losing jobs to China,” I respond: I hope so. We’re losing jobs in obsolescent industries. Our greatest skills are where we’re being pursued by the rest of the world – in our financial systems.

PD: What about the number of IPOs we’ve seen in recent years. Have we gone too far with SarbOx?

AG: eWeek covers his answer but Stan skipped his funny aside: “The only person who thinks this is helping is the head of the London Stock Exchange.”

PD: What about alternative energy? We’re seeing lots of investment there.

AG: Up until recently, the activity was interesting but negligible. The answer is not corn ethanol. It’s a political product, not a real one. But cellulosic ethanol is intriguing. What happens if you can make fuel from something like switchgrass? Now we have an operating plant in Idaho. We’ve done an amazing job of boosting crop yields. If we can boost the appropriate crop yields, we could replace 9 of the 11 million barrels we use daily. That would be significant.

Disclaimer: This post was not based on a transcription, but rather scrawled notes, so anything that sounds odd is no doubt my error, rather than the esteemed messieurs Greenspan and Deninger.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Attention Foodies: CNET Cooks Up

Ok, I understood the brand extension reasoning behind, a "high-quality source of business thought leadership" content that CNET launched last spring. And CNET TV - seems totally logical.

I wouldn't have predicted a food site on the CNET menu, but I suspect they've given it a bit more thought than I have. As a PR person, one has to admire the carefully seasoned launch, which served up a New York Times preview (registration required) as an August appetizer, a month before the public beta went live. (I feel somewhat vindicated by the Times description of CNET as
"an unlikely purveyor" of a food site.)

But CHOW won't be your Father's food site. Today's press release announcing the beta reports that "CHOW provides a place for a new breed of food enthusiasts to share and grow their interests through recipes, features, how-to pieces, personality profiles restaurant reviews and more." The release says CHOW was "created to super-serve a segment of younger, more knowledgeable and opinionated food enthusiasts..." Since it targets users aged 25-49, I suspect I'll feel more at home at my much loved, which the Times regards as serious competition, due to its shared parentage with the venerable pubs Gourmet and Bon Appétit.

Alas, I fear "venerable" is a telltale word. CHOW is chomping at a new, hipper demographic.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

CNET, Privacy and Patricia

Charlie Cooper at CNET wrote today on Patricia Dunn’s lack of contrition in "Pretexting-Gate." Somehow, I’m always doubly disappointed when a female executive fails her employees and shareholders. That’s sexist, I know, but there are just too few women in high places that we can afford casualties.

Dunn may claim that she was not aware of the P.I. firm’s specific tactics, but that’s not really the point. This is about accountability. It’s about a sense of honor. There was really no appropriate response other than to acknowledge her responsibility, to offer a heartfelt apology, to step down immediately and to exit the board. (Dunn is slated to remain as a director at H-P.)

For such a long time, the H-P brand stood for integrity and a humane, ethical approach to business. Dunn's decision has done incalculable damage to H-P’s reputation. CEO Mark Hurd has the perfect opportunity to take a proactive stand on the issue of privacy, and to demonstrate to employees, shareholders and the business community at large that H-P has learned something from this bitter lesson.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Online Classifieds Reach the Masses, Jumping 47 Percent

In the last few months, I've managed to unburden our household of a bunny cage left behind by the previous owners of our house (it only took me 13 years) and a ceiling fan that was collecting dust in our garage.

I shudder to think what said garage would look like without the "Free Stuff" category on Craigslist. Our old sofa would still be out there, instead of gracing a student apartment.

comScore Media Matrix reports hat traffic to the online classifieds category has grown 47% in the past year to 37.4 million Internet users. Wow. That's about 22% of the Internet population. tops the category, with 13.8 million visitors in July 2006, up 99% during the past year.

These stats just drive home the point that traditional media and the means of buying/selling/bartering goods have been totally transformed forever. Craigslist creates a sense of community that you never felt with the paper-based classifieds.

I've recently been turned on to Freecycle, which works differently than Craigslist. Community members can post only free stuff, with the goal of reducing what's heading to the landfill. I'm in the middle of my first experience with Freecycle, but it seems like a thriving group of communities.

It's a great feeling when someone sees value in something you'd rather not see.