Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kerfuffle Man of the Year '05

In the proud American tradition of pointless award giving, I present to you the very first Soul Kerfuffle Man of the Year...

Patrick Byrne, CEO of

You're probably passingly familiar with (aka "The Big O"), which is basically an clone with only moderately competitive prices and a reputation for horrible customer service. Their commercials typically involve a blonde woman utilizing some of the many items she has found on "The Big O" in lamely suggestive ways.

You're probably less familiar with the wild antics of Patrick Byrne, however. In the past year, "The Big CEO" has pulled the following stunts:

- Claimed he was both gay and a coke addict to financial analysts
- Claimed that the mob was out to get him and would probably plant drugs and dead bodies in his car
- Appeared on Bloomberg TV to declare to a bewildered investment world that holiday sales were "a tad disappointing" (typically, bad sales are announced via a tightly worded press release)
- Accused a number of people, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, of a conspiracy to short his stock
- Referred to a "Sith Lord" as the leader of said conspiracy

What truly distinguished Dr. Byrne this year was a conference call he held on August 12, wherein he was supposed to be explaining a lawsuit that had been filed in California court on's behalf.

What we got a rambling mental meltdown the likes of which I don't think I've personally ever seen at the CEO level in corporate America. Included were such gems as:

- "On the coke head thing, and by the way, I’ve never, with one exception, I’ve never even seen cocaine in my life so in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a coke head."

- "Channel B I put information down that I was a coke head. Now my apologies to my gay friends, both within and without, outside the company, I don’t mean to equate the two. I don’t care. I’m a libertarian and I don’t care at all."

- "I acknowledge that he sounded like he lined his hat with tinfoil."

- "So, here's a box I'm going to put some hedge fund folks. I've got to put all the miscreants in the box marked 'miscreant hedge funds'."

And finally...

"As this went on I started realizing that there was actually some more orchestration here being provided, by what I'm calling here is the Sith Lord or the mastermind. Now, can I tell you who that designated bottom feeder was who was supposed to end up with our company? Can I tell you? I can. But I'm not going to today."

It's even better on audio, which you can get here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Proverbial Jetpack

Way back in the earlier parts of the last century, Isaac Asimov predicted that just about everybody would have jetpacks.

Some of his predictions came true, but a great many did not. One that did not was the jetpack. At the end of the last millennium, I wondered many times, "Where the heck are the jetpacks? Where are the flying cars? THIS is the 21st century???" Could it be that some of the films of the 70s and 80s with their bold visions of what the early 21st century would look like were dead wrong? That we would not be so advanced? Heck, James Bond had a jetpack as early as 1965 in Thunderball!!!!

Well, jetpacks aren't here yet, but something even cooler is close to fruition: commercial space travel. Virgin Galactic recently reached an agreement with New Mexico to build their first spaceport there.

Although this may not be the first time you've heard of Virgin Galactic and its offer to send folks into space for $200,000 a ticket, this agreement means that they could be flying out of New Mexico as early as 2009.

THAT'S the kind of stuff I want to see in the 21st century. Although I can't afford a ticket on that first flight, the thought that I might be able to tour space in my lifetime is just about as cool as it gets.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Think You're Having a Bad Day?

How'd you like to be the guy responsible for costing his company their entire profits for the fiscal year?

In a story reported today, Japanese firm Mizuho Securities lost 27 billion yen due to a typing error by one of its traders. That's about 224 million US dollars.

It actually could have been a lot worse, but market laws preventing extremely volatile price fluctuations saved the company from losing even more money due to the blunder.

Obviously this raises questions about the trading system, which almost certainly should have thrown up red flags all over the place when the trader attempted to offer 610,000 shares, valued at $3.1 billion, for 1 yen apiece (1 yen is about .0083 US dollars). But how would you like to be the guy who pushed "Submit" on that one?