Thursday, November 29, 2007

About Last Night...

As expected, last night at First Ave for the Replacements book release party turned into a bit of a "wheels off" evening. They had it set up pretty well with bands alternately playing in the main room and the entry, so the crowd would go back and forth between the two rooms to catch all the acts. Some of it was actually a little disappointing, like the new Mammy Nuns that Rob was playing with. Lame. And we missed Kruddler, who I was looking forward to seeing. But overall it was fun and plenty of drunken half-songs were filled with the spirit of the old 'Mats shows, of which I'm only familiar with the legend.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My DVR

Here's what's set to record on my DVR right now...

* Robot Chicken (stop-motion action figure comedy)
* This Old House (home re-modeling)
* Bill Moyers Journal (socio-political magazine and interview show)
* Almanac (local news and politics)
* No Reservations (travel show hosted by punk rock chef Tony Bourdain)
* The Sports Show (local sports roundtable)
* Squidbillies (cartoon about hillbilly squids, just like it says)
* Globe Trekker (travel show hosted by younger folks)
* Austin City Limits (live music from Austin, TX)
* The Office (sit-com)
* Sundance Channel's The Green (eco-friendly stuff)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cross and The Lynching Tree

Bill Moyers Journal again cemented its place in my world as Must See TV this week when he had on Dr. James Cone who talked about the parallels between the Christian cross and the lynching tree as a way to begin a new conversation about race in America. You really need to program this show into your DVR.

Dr. Cone is a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York and wants to challenge America to re-open this important dialogue. He notes that crucifixion was how the Romans enforced their power, similar to how white America used lynching in post-Civil War America. Pretty powerful to think of it that way.

Moyers asked Dr. Cone to recommend one book for President Bush to read and he suggested The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr. What a phenomenal title! I'm intrigued.

Recently there have been several instances of nooses being hung in America and it is disturbing to think of where we are as a nation. For 400 years whites have been looking down on blacks in this country. Really, how far ahead of the rest of the world are we? It's easy to look down on racial and religious tensions elsewhere, but maybe we're not so different.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bertolucci

When I was at the library yesterday I picked up a few foreign films for the long weekend and today I was formally introduced to legendary Italian filmmaker Bernado Bertolucci. I watched "The Conformist" and came away extremely impressed. I'm not the type to gush like this guy did, but let's just say that I now understand why Bertolucci is regarded as one of the greats. The directing and cinematography were phenomenal and I look forward to checking out more of his works.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

James J. Hill Reference Library

This morning I made my first foray to the James J. Hill Reference Library in about 10 years. It is located in the same ornate, marble building downtown St. Paul that holds the St. Paul Central Library, but has it's own entrance and is a separate library.


The condo building that I live in also happens to be the headquarters of James J. Hill's old Great Northern Railroad, so I enjoy little J.J. Hill experiences more than most, probably.

I went there to do demographics research for this green store idea and was looking for household spending on housewares and home improvement items like flooring, linens, cabinets, glassware, etc. The librarian was very helpful and I found what I was looking for. And it feels good to have that reference ability under my belt now. It's a cool looking library inside, too.

Unfortunately, they still force you to print everything out and charge $0.20 per page. And yes, I did try to log on to my Google Docs to just copy and paste the data right into there, but they have some specialized firewall that prevents sites that would allow a user to usurp their printing fees. Oh well, I'm happy to pay to support a library like that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

MPG vs. MP$

I was reading a story in Outside magazine last night about Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic billionaire. He's been instrumental in setting some large prizes ($25M) to encourage folks to push the envelope in things like space travel and sustainability. X-Prizes they're called.

One that caught my eye was the Automotive X-Prize, offering multi-million$ to somebody who could create a market-ready automobile that gets 100 MPG.

But talk about boxing yourself in! Why are we still using the term miles per gallon for this sort of thing. "Gallon" assumes we're using gasoline. If we're really pushing the boundaries and looking for new technologies, shouldn't we be measuring automobile efficiency by something like MP$? My challenge would be to get somebody who can create a marketable car that can go 100 miles on $1 of input, be it electricity, biofuel, gasoline, blood of a virgin, whatever.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

New 'Mats Book

At the end of this month is the release party for Jim Walsh's new oral history of the Replacements, one of my favorite bands of all time. Alas, I wasn't hip enough in high school to be too into them, but did see them once during college before they broke up.

So, in their honor, I present the greatest music video of all time and some vintage live footage....

Bastards of Young video


Kids Don't Follow from 1981 in Entry (bassist Tommy Stinson is 14 years old here)

Future Czech Bar?

Ever since Mikko and I spent some time in the Czech Republic a couple years ago we talked about opening a Czech bar in the Twin Cities. The idea: only one or two beers on tap, both high quality Czech beers (one certainly would be a pilsner). It would be a throwback to the olden days around here (or so I'm told) where each bar was run by a brewery, so they'd only have that one beer on tap. The risk is that this bar would stick to its guns and only offer 1 or 2 beers on tap. No bottles of MGD or any of that bullshit.

We were thinking that Nord'east Mpls would be the best place in town to do it, but the ol' Viking space on the West Bank might be good, too. After all, somebody needs to see that that beautiful old Grain Belt paint job is preserved. Ahhh, the days when it was rare to have a TV in a bar...


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Renewed Hope

Today I drove down South Robert to visit the triumvirate of big box home stores: Menards, Lowe's & Home Depot (from north to south, respectively). My aim was to see how eco-friendly their product selection is. I also visited Natural Built Home on Minnehaha & 40th which, when I learned of it last week, sounded like it might be the exact same idea as we have for our Uptown green store.

Here's what I found:

Menards & Lowe's were pretty similar in offering virtually no green products, aside from compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Neither of them offered low VOC paint or dual flush toilets or recycled countertops or eco-friendly flooring or sustainable wood. And if they did, it was not noticeable to my discerning eye. Each had a little insulation that was friendlier than pink owens corning fiberglass, but they each had far more of the classic pink panther insulatino than any alternative. They had zero marketing that touted any products as eco-friendly. Not sure if I'm surprised or not and I'm curious to know what their target markets are. Menards seems to want to be a low-cost leader, so that kinda makes sense. I'd never been in a Lowe's before but had heard how their stores are nicer, so I guess I expected that they might be slightly more upscale than Menards. But I don't really know. Do you? I'll ask around.

Home Depot was slightly different, but in only one regard that I could find. When I asked someone to point me towards their insulation, the gentleman who helped me immediately offered up that they were no longer carrying the fiberglass blown-in type, opting instead for the cellulose because it's more green. He mentioned, without me asking, that HD is trying to go more green, so I asked him about low VOC paint. He said they used to offer some from Behr, but it was thin and low-quality and Behr has pulled it (or HD pulled it). But they still had none of the other benchmarks I was looking for.

Next I drove to Natural Built Home in Mpls, almost fearing what I might find. It exists in an unattractive storefront on a nice stretch of Minnehaha which blends a quality neighborhood with decent traffic flow. Decent location, but not optimal. As I entered, I was immediately struck by the presence of customers. Two groups of customers were working with the two salespeople on staff, and another person was milling around. However, I was also struck by the simplicity of the store. It is a pretty simple and small (1200 sq ft?), containing floor samples, cabinet samples, countertop samples, some low VOC paint and a couple dual flush toilets. The employees seemed very knowledgable as they were explaining the different products to the customers, but this store offered a different vibe from what we are envisioning in our Uptown store. No linens, no glassware, purely a place to order cabinetry, countertops, flooring, etc.

I returned home with a renewed hope that our store will be able to differentiate itself.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Current Thoughts

My current thoughts on the green store idea is that, within the 1 year before it could possibly open, Home Depot, Lowe's & Menard's will have plenty of green offerings in their stables. I'm not exactly sure how a little guy could compete.

My rationale: Maybe it's just the little cocoon that I live in, but this green movement is everywhere. Every magazine, NBC, and many corporations are involve, even if for many its only greenwashing. But I just find it hard to believe that by January 2009 you won't be able to walk into a Home Depot, Lowe's or Menard's and choose from a large selection of high quality recycled glass countertops.

And if it is true that Hollywood and the press tend to be more liberal, it will only be spread more in the future.

I'm thinking the future here is more on the production side, because green products will all be distributed through current channels.

Am I wrong? Is there still a place for the little man? Will consumers trust their green greenbacks to the behemoths?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Some Ad

Great quote from some ad:

Pursuit of perfection leads to madness. Pursuit of destiny leads to triumph.

Oh yeah, I think it was an NFL Network ad. Not too bad.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Travel as a Political Act

Rick Steves attributed this quote to Mohammed:

"Do not tell me how educated you are, but tell me how much you have traveled"

I like that. However fairly thorough googling has not validated it. Are you familiar with it? Can you help me validate?

Rick Steves @ Augsburg


Yesterday I went to see travel writer Rick Steves speak at Augsburg on the topic "Travel as a Political Act". I appreciate Steves' books and TV show because he does a good job of showing a traveler how to best manage popular tourist spots. In my travels I've found that his book accompanied by another (like Rough Guide or Lonely Planet) makes a complete collection of resources.

Anyways, Steves comes off as a bit of a weenie on his TV show, so I wasn't sure what to expect out of him as a speaker. But the title of his talk was intriguing so I went. And boy am I glad that I did. He surprised me with his strong political views that were mostly centered around how America could be a better place if more Americans understood the rest of the world better by traveling. He didn't pull any punches when espousing his liberal leanings which have been gleaned by years and years of experiencing the rest of the world first-hand.

Oh, if only our politicians had such an understanding of other cultures. What if, instead of spending 2 years getting an MBA from Yale, our future politicians spent 2 years studying or traveling abroad or in the Peace Corps?

The crowd gave him quite an ovation after being treated to 75 minutes of speech, slideshow and Q&A.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Destiny?

My MBA consulting project team met with our client yesterday for the first time at French Meadow Bakery and this might just turn into my next career. I'm quite excited for the opportunity to work with Lynn & Steve in helping to devise their next entrepreneurial venture, and even more excited that it was implied that there might be a future for me there. For the past few years I've been dreaming of getting out of corporate America and into an eco-friendly business to call my own. And this might be it. Stay tuned...