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I use Google Alerts to tell me when there has been some mention of Dilbert or me on the Internet. It's the digital equivalent of being a fly on the wall because no one really expects me to be one of the six people reading their blog.

Yesterday I came across a blog post about a prediction I made in 1998. I will link to it because I think the post is well written.

http://riskman.typepad.com/perilocity/2008/12/confusopoly-or-scott-adams-prophet-of-finance.html


My prediction about confusopolies was better than I imagined. For example, I keep reading articles about entrepreneurs starting their own electric car companies. When the barriers to entry for starting your own car company come down, you know we're in a commodity world.

Thanks to the Internet, relatively efficient capital markets, and the fact that some company in China can make just about anything, anyone with drive can start just about any kind of company. The interesting part is that in the near future it can never be profitable to do so, because a hundred other people will start the same company next week and drive down your margins. Your only defense is to be confusing, so customers believe, incorrectly, that your product has advantages.

When I started my first restaurant I was surprised how easy it was for someone with no experience to succeed in that business. I hired the right people or companies for every facet of building the business and my operating partner put all the pieces together. The restaurant was an instant hit and lines wrapped around the block when it opened.

But you know the rest.

The fact that it was easy to enter the business is exactly what eliminated the margins. Scores of independent restaurants opened in the general area in the next few years and all cannibalized each other. With our current economic downturn, I predict 40% of the restaurants in my area will shut down within three years. Their margins had disappeared even before the economy imploded.

My theory of confusopolies had a lot to do with my involvement with dilbertfiles.com. It's a business with lots of competitors, and the options and features are confusing. Most of the comments on this blog about the service took the form of "Why would you need a car when a horse can do the job!" In other words, the competing services had confused people about exactly what they offer to the point of equating a horse and a car.

My involvement with dilbertfiles.com is different from the typical celebrity endorsement in an important way: I actually use the service for my own work, and did so long before I had the notion to partner with sendyourfiles.com for a Dilbert branded version of their product.

When you see a tennis star endorse a tennis racket, there is no chance that star uses that actual racket. Pros use heavier rackets, tricked out for their preferences. You couldn't buy Roger Federer's actual racket if you wanted.

I could give other examples, but the point is that you rarely see a case where the celebrity was already using the product before the endorsement or licensing deal was initiated. Sure, he might play professional games in the sneakers that have his name, but there is little chance he would have chosen that particular shoe if his name wasn't on it.

Obviously I could be risking my reputation and lying about a product I use, trying to make a few bucks, but my incentive to do that isn't high. I see my role with dilbertfiles.com as "a guy you know (sort of) who is already using the service and is happy about it." If you don't want to wade through the confusion and do the research yourself, that can be helpful to know. And realistically, no one has time to research every little decision.

 
I'm one of those people who can't remember my own address half the time (true) but I can remember a joke forever. I will now test your joke I.Q. by giving you some punchlines and you can see how many of them you recognize from the joke.

1. It's not so funny when it's YOUR mother, is it?

2. Tuesday is your day in the barrel.

3. Would you hold this camel for me?

4. Keep the tip.

How did you do?

Add your own punchlines without jokes in comments.
 
Reno
Dec 2, 2008 | General Nonsense | Permalink
For Thanksgiving my family and our new dog piled into the car and drove to Reno to visit relatives. If you are not from around here, allow me to explain a few things about Reno.

Reno is between California (God's country) and the black hole that is the rest of northern Nevada. Reno is sort of like God's taint.

We checked into the only hotel in the area that allowed dogs, and discovered we had to give up a few luxuries. For example, I assume the carpets were not always black. I tried to fashion my own stilts with duct tape and chopsticks, but that didn't work out. Plan B involved concentrating real hard to see if I could hover above the floor the way I sometimes do in dreams. Unfortunately that superpower hasn't kicked in yet. I realize that sounds insane, but the only difference between insanity and optimism is luck. And I was feeling lucky. Don't judge me.

A sentence you rarely hear from kids at the higher end hotels is "I just got under the covers and now I have bites all over my legs." Luckily I came prepared with some cortisone cream and some lies about the Reno air drying out your skin. Evidently our blood was so full of turkey triptothan that the attackers dozed off after the initial offensive. Problem solved.

I had more than usual to be thankful about this Thanksgiving. My recent surgery fixed my speech problem after 3.5 years of spasmodic dysphonia. During those years I dreaded every human contact. Simple tasks, such as ordering a meal at a restaurant, or making a phone call, were beyond my powers. This was the first social gathering since 2005 in which I could speak normally. I am a ghost who got a second chance among the living, and for that I am thankful beyond measure.

And I am joking about the hotel. It was clean and perfectly adequate. But Reno is still a taint.
 
The day after the Thanksgiving holiday in America is called Black Friday, when it is said many retailers begin making a profit for the year, hence being "in the black." The media closely follows the retail sales on Black Friday as one gauge of how the holiday season will unfold. This year sales were up 3% over last year despite the recession.

Or so it has been reported.

We also heard media reports of people being injured and killed in shopper "stampedes" this year. Those are the sorts of anecdotes that stick in your head better than sales statistics.

I mention this because the normally popular store I shopped at this weekend was empty. Sure, it was just one store. Still, that's mighty strange for the biggest shopping period of the year.

My favorite conspiracy theory involves a secret society of powerful people managing the news to create trading opportunities. When things get too peaceful, this group invests heavily in weapons manufacturers and then uses the media to sell a war. When the stock market is in the crapper, the puppet masters buy retail stocks and use the media to paint the holiday season as rosier than it is so they can cash in on the market bump. And so on.

Big money is made when markets fluctuate and when you have better information than other investors. What better way to game the system than to cause the fluctuations yourself?

Now you might argue that such a conspiracy would have to involve so many people that it would be impossible to keep it a secret. I'm not so sure about that. First, you would only need to succeed in manipulating the media 55% of the time, just to pick an example number, and that would be enough to reap huge profits over the long run. And there could still be plenty of dissenting voices and competing points of view, so the manipulation could get lost in the noise.

The key to making the manipulation work is making the manufactured crises more compelling or more "sticky" than the plain vanilla stories that are competing for attention. For example, the story about the shopper stampede only needed to be picked up by one influential news source in order to be copied by all. It could as easily been ignored.

And the stampede story is "sticky" because I will probably remember it for the rest of my life, whereas I won't remember a report of some particular store having lower sales this season. It's the same process used by trial lawyers when they argue their cases in terms of human suffering to have a larger impact on the jury.

It wouldn't require the involvement of many people to control the source of economic statistics. At some point in the process of tabulating the results I assume there is literally one person who sees the total before anyone else. Hypothetically, the "story" of brisk retail sales for Black Friday and shopper stampedes might involve only a few paid conspirators beyond the inner circle of the puppet masters.

I don't actually believe the theory I just described. At least not yet. But if your comments tell me the stores you visited in the past week were empty too, I might revisit that position.

 

I wonder what it means to say my consciousness is separate from yours. After all, I can pick up a phone, or author a blog post, and tell you what is on my mind. And if I observe your situation, my empathy tells me roughly how you are feeling. I can't experience your situation exactly as you feel it, but as long as we can communicate I say we are part of a shared consciousness.

By analogy, I'm sure the various parts of one person's brain don't experience reality the same way as his other parts, yet we consider a brain the agent of one consciousness not several.

I was thinking about this recently as I contemplated the enormous coincidences in my life, and how they suggest that I'm living in some sort of a programmed reality that is far from random. It seems odd that at the age of six I would pick a career as a famous cartoonist and then thanks to a spectacular series of coincidences it actually transpires. And what are the odds that Dilbert and Dogbert would have no mouths then their creator loses the ability to speak to an exotic and reportedly incurable condition? And then, against all odds, he is alive at exactly the time in history that one surgeon in the world, who lives nearby, perfects a surgery to cure it. And it works.

Sure, I know life is full of coincidences. But mine seem off the chart. And this makes me feel I am living in some sort of programmed reality, or perhaps a Boltzmann Brain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain


The good news is that no matter what model of reality you pick, we're all part of a shared consciousness as long as we can communicate and empathize.

Have a great holiday if that applies to your country. I probably won't post again until Monday.

 
I assume the technology for anti-depression drugs will keep improving. That seems reasonable. And I assume that being in jail would make the average person depressed. Prisons have healthcare for the inmates, and depression is a legitimate health problem. Here's the dilemma: Do you give a prisoner drugs that will make him happy despite being in jail, or do you have an obligation to keep him depressed? After all, you don't want people thinking that committing a crime will improve their happiness whether they get caught or not.

I expect some quibbling about the definition of depression. I understand there is a big difference between the debilitating form and the type where you are sad for a perfectly good reason. But if your reason for being depressed is a long prison sentence, that reason probably won't pass for years. And if you are having suicidal thoughts, that is generally considered a sign of the serious type of depression. I have to think most people with a long prison sentence entertain the thought of suicide. At what point is it ethically appropriate to treat prison-induced depression?
 
Recently I asked you to take a sneak peek at www.Dilbertfiles.com. It's a subscription service that lets you send, receive, and store huge files online.

Your comments were hugely helpful. Thank you for taking the time. Most of the comments were along the lines of "Why would anyone pay for something they can get for free from a dozen different web sites?" There is a good answer, but evidently it wasn't obvious from the site. So we totally redesigned the interface to service that question.

The fast answer is that the free file sending services are a good substitute for dilbertfiles.com in the same way that walking is a free substitute for driving a car. Walking works perfectly until you want to go shopping out of town on a rainy day. It's a features and convenience thing.

The free file sending services are fine if all you want to do is send a photo of your cat to your mom. And the file isn't too large. And you don't care who might see it. And you don't mind the extra steps. And you are sending, not receiving. And you don't want to store the file online for long. And you only want to send it to one person.

But if you are in a business where you routinely send and receive huge files, you'll want an extra level of security and convenience. And you'll probably be moving files that are much larger than the free services handle. I use Dilbertfiles.com to move my own artwork to my syndication company and to my publisher.

This week I bought the rights to a photo that had been taken of me for a magazine. It was an especially good picture and I needed an updated one for publicity purposes. The photographer's company sent me the photo on a CD, via Fedex. What a pain. If they had Dilbertfiles.com, and used the Outlook plug-in, they could have e-mailed me the file with just a few keystrokes. (None of the free services could have handled files of that size.)

I figure there are several million businesses that move huge files around daily and don't know this sort of service would make their lives easier. If they pick Dilbertfiles.com, they get all the benefits plus they can watch a free slideshow of Dilbert comics in the interface while their file is being sent.

I got involved in this project to justify writing a free blog every day. I searched for a type of online service that could help a lot of people if they simply knew it existed. The beauty of this business model is that if you simply forward the Dilbertfiles.com link to a colleague who might find it useful, you will, for all practical purposes, be leaving me a digital tip for my work without spending any of your own money.

Is this a new business model? I haven't seen it in this precise form.
 
Researchers think they found the body of Copernicus. This raises many questions for me.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081120/ap_on_re_eu/eu_poland_copernicus


To begin, the article identifies Copernicus as the guy "whose theories identified the Sun, not the Earth, as the center of the universe."

I'm no astronomer, but I'm pretty sure our sun isn't the center of the universe either. The current thinking is that the sun is the center of our solar system. Apparently Copernicus died in vain. I wonder if his skeleton was spinning in its grave when it was discovered.

I also wonder what the researchers plan to do with his body. I recommend attaching a generator to his bones and then reading the Yahoo News report to them once a day. That should solve our energy problem.

I wonder if Polish law allows you to buy a guy's skeleton if there are no known relatives to claim it. That would make a great conversation piece for some billionaire. If I owned them I would hang them from a moving track around my office so Copernicus always revolved around me when I worked. And I would refer to my office as the universe, because apparently that word can mean anything.

 
People often ask me where I got my inspiration for one thing or another. Or what possessed me to do something. Or why I have a passion for a particular project. The assumption behind those questions, I think, is that if one could find out where such causes originate, it would be possible to pick a promising field of endeavor then activate the inspiration to spark higher levels of achievement.

But it doesn't work that way. In my experience, I do the project I can't stop myself from doing. Passion is the thing you can't control, by definition. It's the same with inspiration. At any given time there are dozens of projects that I think make sense, but sooner or later one bubbles to the top on its own, logic ignored, and takes over my schedule.

Dilbert was like that. It drove me; I didn't drive it. It felt as if some invisible hand was pushing me. You can label it passion or inspiration if you want. Religious folks might have a different interpretation. The only point is that it controls the person, not vice versa.

If there is a logical component to chasing these passions - beyond the thin rationalizations I tend to layer on them - it is the fact that sometimes you have to get them out of your system to free yourself for the next one. For me, this was most true with my book God's Debris. It was my first non-Dilbert book, at a time that writing such a thing seemed like a really bad idea to all observers. But I had no choice. The book sprang fully formed into my head one day while I was showering, and I couldn't do anything else until I got it out. That meant writing it.

So when people ask how they can find their passion, the answer is that your passion finds you, as long as you can free up your schedule from the "must dos" enough to let it in. When I had a full-time job, before Dilbert, I awoke at 4 AM, sat alone in a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee, and waited. I did that for a year or two, just emptying my mind and freeing my imagination. I don't remember the day I picked up a pencil and started drawing instead of sitting during those hours, but I'm sure I didn't have a choice.
 
I love pirates. I love their parrots, their wooden legs, their eye patches, and obviously their AAARGS! But I have never loved pirates more than the day they seized a fully laden supertanker off the coast of Somalia.

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/11/18/kenya.tanker.pirates/?iref=mpstoryview


We should have seen this coming. I blame Obama and his whole "Yes I can" philosophy. Suddenly even the pirates are thinking big. Six months ago these pirates were probably robbing convenience stores. After they saw Obama get elected president, they figured anything was possible.

The funny part is that they are probably right. No one is going to start shooting in the general direction of a supertanker (except pirates), and the pirates have an excellent track record for releasing hostages unharmed for a price. It looks like this scheme might work.

I wish I had seen the meeting where they first cooked up this supertanker plot. There must have been a whole lot of audacity of hope, and obviously some potent cannabis. I wonder if the other pirates laughed when one of them suggested the idea, or if it sounded like a good plan right from the start. And is there a Somalian pirate equivalent of the catch phrase "That's just crazy enough to work!"?

I have to wonder where this trend will stop. If you are hijacking supertankers, it can't be that much of a leap to complete the distribution chain and make some real money. Somewhere in Somalia a band of pirates is passing a bong and designing logos for their chain of gas stations. I can see it now: You get a free eye patch with every tank, and the price is always AAAARG!

Today only, all of your comments should incorporate AAAARG!

 
 
 
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