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  • Michael Krakovskiy 12:20 am on September 11, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: armless nursing chair, Bertil Torekull, , car door factory, , Economy of Sweden, , , , Ingvar, , journalist, ST├śR,   

    Leading By Design: The Ikea Story 

    Based on exclusive interviews with the legendary founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, Leading by Design tells the inside story of Kamprad’s humble roots and of the visionary concepts and innovative strategies that turned a small, Swedish mail-order company into a worldwide commercial giant.

    When in 1943 at age seventeen Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA, he had no way of knowing that IKEA would come to represent dedication to quality, a distinct design style, and convenience to the harried modern consumer. Today, more than 195 million people worldwide frequent his 150 stores in thirty countries, and almost 100 million catalogs are printed each year.

    As the grandson of German immigrants who went to Sweden in search of a better life, Ingvar Kamprad grew up on a farm in a rural village. But he was no farmer. Early in his life, he discovered his natural affinity for business. From cigarette lighters and fish to Christmas cards and pens, young Ingvar devoted himself to importing and selling anything he thought he could make a profit on. Furniture was just one item in a long and fairly undistinguished list’until, in an effort to best his main competitor, he took a chance on an armless nursing chair he called Ruth. It quickly sold out. Adding a coffee table and then a sofa bed and then a chandelier, Kamprad was astonished by how quickly the merchandise moved.

    The rest is business history. In Leading by Design, Bertil Torekull, a well-known Swedish journalist, reveals the genius and the secrets behind IKEA’s extraordinary success. With candor and detail, he offers insights into Kamprad’s cutting-edge management strategies, his enthusiasm to embrace innovative methods (such as producing ready-to-assemble merchandise and using a car door factory to produce affordable products with universal appeal), and the tools he used to grow the IKEA brand into a veritable industry unto itself.

    More than a standard business history Leading by Design captures the essence of Kamprad himself. It is a testament to the inspiration, the ideas, and the innovations that make a good business great.

  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:12 pm on January 16, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Cash register, cashier, , Coins of the United States, Coinstar, Commerce Bank, crummy drugstore chain, , , economist, Eliot Spitzer, Health-o-Meter physician, high real estate costs, John Galt, journalist, Ku Klux Klan, local bank, , , , , Pound sterling, Reade, Springfield mall, , United States dollar, , , , worse real estate hogs   

    The Real Estate Hogs and The Coin Counting Robot 

    Remember that The Simpsons episode where Starbucks swallows every store in Springfield mall?

    “… Bart, while walking through the Springfield Mall, passing several Starbucks, goes into a store called “In and Out Piercing”.
    Employee: Can I help you?
    Bart: I’d like to get my ear pierced.
    Employee: Well, better make it quick, kiddo. In five minutes this place is
    becoming a Starbucks.
    Bart gets his ear pierced, and has a diamond-shaped clear stone inserted into the new hole. As he leaves the store, it, like all of the other stores above and around it, is transformed into Starbucks.”

    New York City was one of the last markets that Starbucks entered, mostly because of high real estate costs. But besides Starbucks, there are two types of businesses that swallow an enormous portion of commercial space in NYC: drugstores and banks. Whenever you see a sizable store for rent, it’s almost inevitable that it will become a drugstore or a bank.

    The drugstore business is not particularly profitable, but one chain, Duane Reade, seems to be opening store after store. In my neighborhood there are two Duane Reades one block from each other, and several other equally lame pharmacies. There’s an interesting article called The Mystery of Duane Reade which among other things, addresses a question just as interesting as “Who is John Galt.” Unlike Galt, Duane Reade is not really a person. The crummy drugstore chain derives it’s name from the first store that was located on the corner of Duane St. and Reade St. in Manhattan.

    Banks are even worse real estate hogs, and are popping up even faster than Duane Reade and Starbucks. There are two stores that went out of business recently in my neighborhood, and both are being replaced by banks. There’s a bank across the street from where I live, and one or two on almost every block. Yet there are no supermarkets bigger than a tiny little Pioneer in a 20 block radius.

    The stiff competition is forcing banks to offer new services to attract customers. Commerce Bank, for instance, offers a service called “Penny Arcade.” They basically have change-counting Coinstar machines without the fee. All you have to do is get the receipt from the machine, and the cashier will exchange it for paper money.

    During the last major cleaning fit that I had, I took my overflowing coin bowl and dumped it into a canvas bag. I weighted it on my Health-o-Meter physician’s scale which is exact to within 1/4 lb. The scale read 29 1/2 lb.

    Here’s what 29 1/2 lb of coins in a Strand bag look like:

    I dragged the heavy money bag to the bank, and proceeded to empty it out, handful by handful into the Coinstar machine. I had to suffer loud and annoying cartoon voice aimed at kids and overall felt like a dork, but I got rid of all the change and cashed in my printed receipt. As I was curious of the how exact the coin count was, I asked the cashier for a copy of the receipt. She had to do it by hand for some reason, but here it is:

    To calculate how much this should theoretically weight, I need to do a little bit of math. A dollar coin weights in at 8.100g, quarter at 5.670 g, dime at 2.268 g, nickel at 5.000 g and penny at 2.500 g (according to the US Mint)

    This gives us: 5 * 8.100g + 358 * 5.670 g + 987 * 2.268 g + 659 * 5.000 g + 1928 * 2.500 g = 12.423876 kg

    12.423876 kg = 27.3899581 lb.

    That’s about 2.1 lb difference from my original weight. The machine rejected a Chinese coin, two Boston subway tokens and a few coins with gunk on them. The bag probably weights at most 1/2 lb. So it seems that the coin-counting automaton cheated me out of a pound of coins. That’s about 9 bucks by my calculations.

    [Update] I’m told that pre-1982 pennies weight 3.1 grams instead of 2.5, so my calculation is a bit off.

    Of course, my experiment is far from exact. It depends on the number of factors, such as the possibility of my scale being not as precise as I think or the possibility that coins lose some weight after being in circulation. But somehow I highly suspect that the Coinstar machines are undercounting. Wall Street Journal journalist ran an experiment with a remeasured amount of money. I can’t find the original article, but this quote about $87.26 seems to be floating around a lot:

    “For consistency, we began with equal piles of $87.26 worth of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters that we had gotten from a local bank in coin envelopes.

    Talk about a tough economy. The machines at both Commerce Bank and Coinstar gave us less back than we put in — Commerce Bank missed by a whopping $7.02, while Coinstar was off by 57 cents.”

    Where is Eliot Spitzer when you need him?


    Health-O-Meter Physician’s Balance Beam Scale: a must have weapon in the battle of the bulge.

    A “rogue” (read “somewhat sloppy, but very interesting”) economist tries to answer tough questions, such as: What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? How is Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? Where have all the criminals gone?

  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:30 am on April 18, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 3d picture technology, , , , , , Cartoon channel, , , , , Japanese channel, journalist, Kitya, , , , Sakura, , , Television in Japan, , , , , Vsevolod Ovchinnikov   

    Deadprogrammer Visits Japan or Sakura in Partial Bloom Part I 

    Part I : The Roots Of Russian Japanophilia

    What are the roots of Russian (I should really be saying “Russian-speaking Generation X”, but that would be too long, wouldn’t it?) Japanophilia? Honestly I have no idea, but the fact is that it plays an important role in the huge number of high quality Sushi restaurants in Brooklyn, tremendous popularity of Japanese themed blogs in the Russian-speaking Livejournal community and the popularity of Erast Fandorin Mysteries.

    Kitya, the author of the above mentioned outstanding blog, whom I met in Tokyo, thinks that the reason is probably the same as with the US Japanophilia – anime cartoons. I have a different theory. Before the first anime shown in the USSR,Flying Ghost Ship, made it’s appearance, I was already fascinated with Japan. The reason for that was the excellent book called “Branch of Sakura” that I found in my dad’s library. As it turns out, 30 years later the author of the book, journalist Vsevolod Ovchinnikov was invited back to Japan to write a second installment of the book. Ovchinnikov’s writing still has the same lucidity, simplicity and attention to detail. I think that he is one of the major reasons why Soviet Generation X is so interested in everything Japanese.

    Some time during Perestroika there was a week of Japanese TV in USSR. They showed the most amazing stuff : how they make Japanese water sharpening stones (I own a set these days) and how a skillful sharpening master can sharpen a carpenter’s plane so that he could make a micron thick shaving with it. They’ve shown how chasen whisks (I have one) used in a tea ceremony are made by splitting bamboo by hand. They’ve shown a fisherman who could tell exactly how many trouts his net was catching and a master bamboo fishing rod maker. They’ve shown an awesome game show called Takeshi’s Castle. Oh, how I wish someone would make a DVD of that show! There was the usual exotic stuff like Sumo wrestling, Sakura festivals as well more unusual stuff such as a few clips of Japanese reporters walking around Moscow (a part of which I described earlier.

    Before coming to America I thought that there must be hundreds of channels on TV there, and specifically a few that showed only cartoons (as opposed to 3 or 4 channels in the USSR with one to two old cartoons shown per day). My expectations were overly optimistic as the Cartoon channel came into existence significantly later. Now I hope and pray that there will be a channel of Japanese TV with English subtitles, Sumo, news, Abarenbo Shogun and other Chambara. And Takeshi’s Castle reruns. Ah, one can only dream. For now all I have is the couple of hours of Japanese shows on Fujisankei Lifestyle which airs for a couple of hours. Actually while writing this post I learned that there is a Japanese channel on the Dish network, but it’s $25 a month.

    I never anywhere abroad since I came to the US and me and my wife did not have a decent vacation in years. So I decided to pleasantly surprise my wife, who knows and tolerates my extreme hate of traveling, and proposed that we have a vacation in Japan. Thanks to her diligent planning we had an amazing 10 day trip to Japan, spending 6 days in Kyoto and 4 days in Tokyo.

    My camera died in Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. But still me and my wife managed to take about 2500 pictures. I took a lot of 3d pictures. 3d picture technology is very simple : I have a lens that takes two slightly offset pictures at the same time. To view the image you can either learn a special technique and really, really strain your eyes or obtain a rather simple viewer of which there are many varieties, some very cheap, some a bit more expensive and some are pretty expensive. I find that the cheap viewer made by the same company that makes the lens that I use work very well.

    [update] : due to the lack of interest there won’t be many 3d pictures in my posts.

    [update] Ok, I did get one request for a 3d viewer. So maybe someone out there cares. So if you want one, send me your postal address to

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