The Brandon Copple Blog

Such as it is.

Boastful bore

Posted by bcopple on March 28, 2009

After my girls were born, I resolved that I would never again brag about anything except them.

Who was I kidding? I’m way too insecure to just sit back the rest of my life and let everybody figure out for themselves how smart or cool I am.

champsStill, what I’m about to do is gratuitous. This is a full-on boast.

Crain’s this week won a slew of awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers – that powerhouse organization, so revered among its legions of members, so feared on Capitol Hill. Five of those went to our website, including first place in overall excellence for sites our size (half a million monthly page views and smaller). I’m proud of all our team, particularly Online editor Mike McHugh, Multimedia Producer Jeff Hartvigsen and General Manager Terry Gallaher.

I’m also very proud that Entrepeneurs in Action, the monthly video I’ve been producing since August, won best audio/visual report for small/midsize websites. I share the credit with former Assistant Managing Editor Tom Mucha (now Managing Editor at GlobalPost), who produced the first seven episodes last year, and Mark Scheffler, the videographer and editor on all the 2008 pieces. In the judges comments, they singled out two episodes published in 2009. Those were shot by Crain’s staff photographer Steve Serio and edited by our video whiz kid, Dustin Park.

Here’s what the judges said:

“Entrepreneurs in Action” does a superb job of finding interesting startup companies in the Chicago area and bringing them to life on screen. The producers show us the reality of the startup life via revealing, in-depth interviews with their entrepreneur subjects. Impressively, they also find fresh angles on big stories such as the future of the news business (“Big ideas, small profits”) and the changing nature of intellectual property (“Callpod: Running with the big dogs”).

This is really gratifying. Since taking over EiA I’ve fallen in love with the damn thing. It allows me to indulge my fascination with entrepreneurs and to continue honing my storytelling chops in a new medium — which I’m only beginning to understand. My hope is that the series will only get better.

Then I’ll really have something to brag about.

(By the way, you can also catch EiA on Comcast Digital Cable. Go to Channel 1 or hit the On Demand button, then select Get Local, then Crain’s Chicago Business. There it is.)

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‘A coat, a hat and a gun’

Posted by bcopple on March 26, 2009

fmlFifty years ago today, Raymond Chandler died. We’ve yet to get over it. By we, I mean those of us who love detective novels, film noir and other forms of that distinctly American genre: the hard-boiled arts. Chandler took what had been a trade — writing pulp fiction for cheap magazines — and turned it into an art form. He’s been followed by (probably) thousands of imitators. Nobody comes close. Nobody. Not Dennis Lehane, not Ross McDonald, not Robert B. Parker. Those guys are considered fine mystery writers. But try reading a Chandler novel, then reading one of theirs. Kinda like reading A Light in August followed by The Bridges of Madison County.

That analogy is no joke. Chandler created great literature. A master stylist, he wrote with spare, disciplined prose, a relentlessly tough (and also distinctly American) sensibility and a wit as sharp as the creases in Marlowe’s hat. Consider this, from ‘Farewell, My Lovely:’

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.

Chandler did a lot of other things well too. He created a crusading hero, Philip Marlowe, who never got political or preachy — an archetype that’s still being copied, poorly. He turned a city, pre-war Los Angeles, into a recurring character — as tough, corrupt and beautiful as one of Marlowe’s treacherous blondes. He loved the city the way Nelson Algren loved Chicago – not in spite of its naked brutality, but because of it.

Chandler once said of the style of writing he honed in the pulps: “When in doubt, have a man walk through the door with a gun in his hand.” He was half-joking of course, but that’s still great advice for a writer.

Of course most of us don’t have Raymond Chandler’s gift for creating something beautiful out of worlds where men burst in waving guns. In fact, none of us do.

So anyway, here’s 10 Things to Read on the 50th Anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s Death.

Better yet, just read some Chandler. I’ll lend you some of mine – but you have to bring it back.

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We don’t cook no pizzas

Posted by bcopple on March 11, 2009

090311_eia_homemade_pizzaHomemade Pizza Co. is the Chicago pizzeria that, like my father before it, doesn’t do any cooking. It’s also the subject of this month’s Entrepreneurs in Action video (produced by yours truly).

Homemade has 19 stores in Chicago, 5 in Minneapolis and 2 in D.C. It’s run by a smart, funny, no-bullshit entrepreneur named Eric Fosse.

Confession: We order Homemade Pizza all the time. So convenient – they deliver fast (no cooking time, you know) and we can eat when it’s convenient. The toppings are all fresh and natural, and I do think you gain flavor when it comes straight outta the oven, as opposed to out of the cardboard box where it sat for 20 minutes while the delivery guy found your house.

So this was a fun piece. Got to visit Homemade’s commissary, where they make dough and sauce for 1,000 pizzas a day in all the Chicago stores. Eric developed the recipe himself, so he could explain any little detail. For instance, they don’t use measuring cups for any ingredients – everything is weighed on a scale. More accurate.

Eric also let me in on some news: Homemade will soon have pasta on the menu (right now it’s just pizza and salads). He’s hired a classically trained chef from super-schmancy L2O to develop recipes. Look for frozen lasagna first.

And, last fall Eric bought a small farm in Southwest Michigan where he’ll grow lettuce, tomatoes and other ingredients for pizzas and salads. He wanted the farm because he wants to better understand the stuff he’s selling – and as a place where his staff can go to learn more about the secret life of foodstuffs.

Check it out.

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Bueller? Bueller? Merrill?

Posted by bcopple on March 11, 2009

This loong piece is worth watching, and significant, not so much as a tribute to Peter Schiff but as a punch in the noses of some of the persistent nimrods of financial punditry.

Schiff is clearly a smart guy, although I don’t know much about him, and don’t really care. I do admire that he not only forecast the credit bubble and the catastrophe that would result when it popped, but also spoke up about it, even as the pinheads on cable news repeatedly laughed in his face.

Of course we know now that the people laughing at Peter Schiff were (and are) total humps. Arthur Laffer is seen swatting away Schiff’s prediction of a debt-driven recession on Aug. 26, 2006. “We’re gonna have a nice slowdown but it’s not gonna be a crash,” says the man who gave us the Laffer Curve (actually he wrote it on a napkin and gave it to Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, who fed it to us).

Also shown to be a buffoon: actor/economist Ben Stein. Now, Ben Stein is a decent writer who has a Sunday New York Times column (although it’s often full of shit). But he should limit his TV work to schlepping eye drops. In this clip, Stein proclaims Merrill Lynch “an astonishingly well-run company”and declares its stock a “super bargain.” That was back in August 2007, when Merrill shares traded at $70. If you listened to Ben and bought Merrill stock, I’m sorry. Merrill was sold to Bank of America for $29 a share last September.

Lesson: don’t believe any of the clowns on TV, especially this guy.

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Will the wolf survive?

Posted by bcopple on March 8, 2009

Photo: Max Waugh (maxwaugh.com)

Photo: Max Waugh (maxwaugh.com)

Now comes word that the Obama people agree with the Bush people’s decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list in most of the northern plains and Rocky Mountain states. This means wolves will no longer receive federal protection under the the Endangered Species Act – one of the great achievements in U.S. environmental law – and subjects them to the protection, or not, of the states.

Bad idea.

Leaving wolf protection to the states is an endorsement by the feds, specifically Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, of the states’ so-called ‘wolf management’ plans. These are sets of rules that govern the killing of wolves; mostly, the states prohibit wolf killing except when the animals are caught in the act of attacking livestock, pets or people (all of which are extremely rare). There’s also very limited recreational wolf hunting allowed – to satisfy the truly bloodthirsty.

Wyoming is the only state where ESA protection of wolves remains in force. That’s because Wyoming hasn’t committed to maintaining enough wolves to ensure the species isn’t wiped out. And because Wyoming would classify wolves as predators in all parts of the state except Yellowstone National Park – meaning they could be shot on sight, for any reason (or, more likely, no reason at all).

Now, it’s true that gray wolves have staged a powerful recovery since being reintroduced in Yellowstone and Idaho last decade. But it’s foolish to assume that recovery will continue under the states. The ESA subjects anybody caught killing an endangered critter to prison time. The state regimes rarely match that deterrent power.

Look, wolves are good to have around. They almost exclusively prey on other wildlife, which helps manage the population of deer, elk, coyotes, etc. The benefits run wide and deep. Fewer elk, for instance, means less damage to trees that the bucks tear up with their antlers. Wolves kill coyotes, who are far more prolific murderers of livestock and general troublemakers than their bigger, badder canine cousins.

Besides, wolves are magnificent creatures and it’s just nice to know they’re out there – hunting, raising pups, haunting the western night with their beautiful howls.

That seem specious? Well, no more so than the arguments for wolf slaughter. Ranchers say wolves threaten their livestock. Bullshit. In fact, wolves are responsible for only about one-tenth of one percent of cattle deaths, which are much more likely to result from disease or even attacks by pets. There’s no rational reason for ranchers to hate wolves, and there’s no reason to continue to let these these idiot welfare cowboys shape environmental policy in the West.

For eight years the Bush administration did everything it could to undermine endangered-species protection. I would’ve expected the Obama team to put a stop to that. Maybe they will – but turning their backs on the gray wolf is a lousy way to start.

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Downloads for doggies

Posted by bcopple on January 24, 2009

Alright, this is way cool. If you buy Neko’s new single and post it on your blog, she’ll give five bucks to Best Friends Animal Society, an animal-rescue group that runs a shelter for abused and abandoned pets in Utah.

So here’s to the furry creatures: People Got a Lotta Nerve.

Of course, the song kicks ass.

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Here she comes again

Posted by bcopple on January 24, 2009

That distant, down-lonesome sound you hear? It’s not a train whistle. It’s not the north wind. And it’s not Patsy Cline’s ghost.

Neko’s back.

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Callpod: Chicago startup that takes shit from nobody

Posted by bcopple on January 23, 2009

There’s more to this story. Callpod was dreamed up and started by a couple of software guys – Darren Guccione and Craig Lurey. They figured they’d come up with cool gadgets – 100-meter bluetooth headsets, multi-device chargers, etc – figure out how to build them and sell licenses to big gadget makers like Motorola.

So Darren and Craig had dozens of meetings with dozens of middle-managers at Moto, but kept running into walls of arrogance and red tape. Darren says they’d hear things like ‘if it’s so good we’ll make it ourselves.’ And ‘we’ll call you back in 12 weeks.’090114_eia_callpod

Eventually they said the hell with it and went off to make the stuff themselves. Never thought they’d get into the hardware business – with manufacturing, distribution and all the other crap. But here they are. Best in innovation at CES, selling their gadgets at Best Buy, Costco and of course from their homepage.

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Chi Biz Today: New Cubs owner, Obama-beanies

Posted by bcopple on January 23, 2009

Great show: analysis of challenges facing new Cub owner Tom Ricketts, plus the latest on the Sasha/Malia beanie-baby fiasco and a scoop on Chicago liquor-store mergers.

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The online inauguration

Posted by bcopple on January 21, 2009

Unbelievable numbers from today’s CNN/Facebook extravaganza. Have to say: loved it. Video stream never broke – I had an unbroken stream, which seems like something a pharmaceutical ad might promise – and the status updates alongside helped reduce my toggling. Still toggled my ass off, of course – Twitter, mail, CNN, repeat. Even the full-screen view looked great.

So, the only serious inauguration fuck-up belongs to Chief Justice John Roberts. The highest-ranking jurist in the whole goddamn Republic was unable to recite a few (critically important) lines. One of those days when it’s good to have a lifetime appointment.

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