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Raymond Jepson "Mr-914" (montreal, qc, canada)
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Pickin Up The Pieces (Digi)
Pickin Up The Pieces (Digi)
Price: CDN$ 18.05
24 used & new from CDN$ 9.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Album of the year, Oct. 14 2011
I've often heard of Fitz and the Tantrums being described as too mainstream for the hipsters, but not trendy enough to break mainstream. It's completely true. Which is a sad testament to today's music industry.

All I have to say about this album is that it is the best new album I've heard in the last two years. Arcade Fire hasn't made anything good since Funeral. The Brit explosion of a few years ago (Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand) has slowly ground to a disappointing halt. The top 40 radio music is worthless. This album is a gem. Great music. Dancable. Great lyrics, whether political or typical romance.

If you like music, buy this now!

Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business
Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business
by Bob Lutz
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Designer review, Oct. 14 2011
GM has routinely been singled out in the last two decades as an example of a bloated enterprise that is so focused on maximizing today's profit that it sacrifices its very future to do so. According to Bob Lutz, that is a fairly good description of GM when he arrived in 2001 as Vice Chairman in charge of product development. In his book, 'Car Guys Versus Bean Counters', he chronicles the very wary GM of 2001 through it's first still-born turn-around, it's acquisition by the American and Canadian governments and it's new born success since 2009.

It might seem that a book written by a businessman about how to turn around a business would have little to say about design. In fact, it is clear that Lutz has only a small understanding of design. However, he consistently argues for its position at the front of product development through-out this book, from the horrible failures of the '80's and '90's to GM's incredible success of the last few years.

To start with, Lutz reminisces on the some of the early super-star designers that GM made: Harley Earl and Billy Mitchell. Earl is responsible for creating the GM styling department. After working as a coach builder for years, Earl was hired to design the 1927 LaSalle (a now defunct GM brand). It was such a success that GM president Alfred P. Sloan decided to create the GM art and color section with Harley Earl as its chief. Earl's success and brilliant work got him all the way up to a Vice-President in GM, the first designer to become a VP in a major corporation.

Billy Mitchell took over from Earl in 1958. Mitchell continued a GM prominence in automotive styling, as well as design's leadership role in defining products. Lutz recounts the story of Mitchell sending a man to Ferrari in Italy, buying a brand new Ferrari for list price, flying it back to Detroit where Mitchell instructed GM engineers to remove the Ferrari V12 and put it in a new Pontiac Firebird concept car he was working on. Mitchell then called the chief engineers down to the GM proving ground. As the Ferrari Firebird V12 circled the track, with it's engine screaming, Mitchell told the engineers, 'That's how the car should sound!'.

However, as GM continued to evolve, the design department lost it's flamboyant leaders, with Mitchell retiring in 1977. After which, inspired by the successes of Toyota and Honda, GM leadership became obsessed with efficiency and repeatability. In the 1980's, executives with a purely business background were placed in charge of development projects. All decisions started to be based on metrics and complicated mathematics rather than the emotional touch that successful products always use.

For example, long term planning decisions began to based purely on metrics. Worse yet, because they were dreamt up by MBAs and accountants, the metrics lacked any relation to the real motivations of consumers. Lutz challenged one group, asking how they missed the niche the PT Cruiser filled a few years earlier. The group responded that the had in fact predicted it, 'Multi-place monospace is in our chart'. Lutz responded that the description would never lead to the fashion driven retro-styled success of the PT Cruiser.

As this kind of decision making dragged on, it took a toll on the designers. Lutz recounts hearing of a chief designer becoming physically ill during a project, so disgusted were they at all of the compromises that the executives in charge were forcing on the project. Eventually, the designer had to take nearly a year off to recover!

In spite of this loss of spirit, Lutz doesn't blame designers, saying of Wayne Cherry, GM's V.P. of Design, 'Designers are artists, and artists, by and large, are gentle souls and have little or no taste for harmony-destroying conflict.' That fits in pretty close to what I've seen working with corporate designers. However, as Bill Buxton from Microsoft likes to say, 'Designer rhymes with whiner'. Corporate designers (me included) tend to complain a lot, but we always believe we can inspire the organization with our work rather than outright confrontation. Unfortunately, at GM, this was not the case.

Another aspect of the decline was, ironically, a focus on quality. However, as Lutz points out, an absence of complaints does not equal quality. To illustrate, he describes the way the paint engineers had reduced the sheen in GM's paints in order to hide the normal small paint quality problems (runs, drips, etc) at the expense of the visual impact of the car. The engineers pointed out that GM had the lowest number of complaints about paint in the industry. However, the dull paint was uninspiring.

Luckily, Lutz was the kind of executive to turn product development around. Lutz was always a product centred executive, working his way around many big players: GM Europe, Ford, Chrysler and finally his role as chairman. Lutz was brought in by GM CEO Rick Wagoner specifically to turn around GM's dismal products. Lutz demanded and received the powers he needed: ability to terminate any duds in the current pipeline and being placed in charge of all of the powerful product development executives.

Lutz's biggest challenge was weening GM off of the metrics and get it back in touch with emotions. 'The error with traditional product planning methodology is that it crowds out art, creativity and spontaneous invention. It assumes that automotive consumers are highly rational people who will perform analyses and elaborate feature comparisons before making their purchases,' Lutz writes of the situation. The comment reminded me one of GM's biggest mistakes: the Pontiac Aztek. I've long argued that the Aztek was the perfect concept that could not have been executed worse. The proof of that is the Nissan Xterra. Both vehicles were based around the concept of supporting customers who have a lot of outdoor sports hobbies who want a vehicle that can transport there gear out to the mountains and rivers and then act as a home base. The Aztek performs this activity, perhaps better than the Xterra. However, the Aztek wears its cost on its sleeve: based on an aging mini-van platform with a wheezy motor and large flat (ie cheap) body panels. It reminds one more of a electric wheelchair than exotic crafted outdoor gear that it was intended to carry. The Xterra tapped straight into that outdoor inspiration with its chunky design and great details, like the Swiss army knife looking roof rack and integrated first-aid kit.

Such cost-cutting was rampant in GM. Of course it was, because non-design aware executives were making the critical design decisions. Lutz reversed this by making the designers the last word in styling decisions. One example was on the Chevrolet Impala. The designers wanted to add a chrome surround around the side windows, but executives wanted to delete it as un-necessary and expensive. The chrome stayed and the Impala became a quiet success at GM.
Lutz also drove to close the perceived quality gap with GM's competitors. For example, he called on the engineers to improve the panel gaps, which had once been described as being so large that a horse could make love to them. Surprisingly, the remedy required very little investment. It was just that the 'standard' had been accepted for so long, no one thought of changing it!

The rest of the book chronicles the more political side of Lutz's campaign: the development of GM's own hybrid, the Chevy Volt and an insiders look at GMs takeover to become 'Government Motors' from 2009 until 2011.
Overall, I highly recommend the first eight chapters of 'Car Guys Versus Bean Counters' to all designers. It's an inspirational read that reminds us of how important our profession is and that we are experts too. It's also a great book to drop into your company's President's mailbox if you feel they are becoming too focused on that kind of narrow idea of 'quality' as being an absence of complaints. Lastly, read this book if you are a car guy!

The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club
The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club
by Peter Hook
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.40
13 used & new from CDN$ 5.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forgive me Hooky!, Oct. 14 2011
I'm a huge fan of New Order, Joy Division and the whole Factory Music world. That's why I would recommend this book only to the diehard fan.

The book chronicles Peter Hook's (bassist New Order) experience of Manchester during the roaring '80s and early gay '90s. The book says it's about running a club, but even Hook is honest about not being much of a manager. The first half of the book is mostly about Hook being drugged out of his head and barely remembering the multiple times that his band was fleeced of money in order to keep the club open. Which gets me to the writing: fifth grade level. Hook writes in a stream of consciousness, conversational way. It's entertaining, but often difficult to understand. He uses a lot of incomplete sentences and phrases which allows the reader to try connect them into something resembling an idea.

Having said that, for the true fan, you will love this book for the little stories that pop out.

Content
Content
Price: CDN$ 17.70
22 used & new from CDN$ 2.52

2.0 out of 5 stars Gang of Two, Oct. 14 2011
This review is from: Content (Audio CD)
I'm a huge GO4 fan. After their last album, Return the Gift, I was so excited to imagine what they might produce next. Return the Gift reunited the original band line up (Gill, King, Allen and Burnham) to play their original 1980's songs. However, the band had another falling out (google "dave allen" interview for details) and Content ended up being recorded with only the main duo of Gill and King. That doesn't necessarily mean an awful album, but it has always meant a step down from their best (see the albums Hard, Mall and Shrinkwrapped for the second tier of Go4 material). Unfortunately, Content is just awful. Some of the music is good, but never really fresh and new. The lyrics are just bland.

The biggest part of my love of Go4 is their questioning of the everyday. The second is the fresh new way they composed their music. Content has neither. I would strongly suggest that Go4 fans just listen to Return the Gift again and avoid this disappointment.

El Baile Alemán
El Baile Alemán
Price: CDN$ 13.99
5 used & new from CDN$ 13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Trans Caraibean Express, Oct. 14 2011
This review is from: El Baile Alemán (Audio CD)
I think I heard of Senor Cocunut from Henry Rollin's radio show. He plays the weirdest stuff on there and I was blown away to think that someone would do latin music versions of Kraftwerk (one of my favorite bands). This album is very well produced and the music follows Kraftwerk's original to a surprising degree. However, it ends up being more lounge music than dancable latin swings, which is what I was hoping for.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkatesh
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
41 used & new from CDN$ 9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars A unique human view into the inner city, Oct. 26 2010
So much is said and written about the problems of the inner city: poverty, drugs, violence. Often though, it is talked about in a cold clinical fashion by people who have never experienced it first hand, or even confronted it face-to-face. That's where Gang Leader for a Day comes in.

The author starts the book, like many of us, with a curiosity of the projects in Chicago. He slowly approaches them physically, while doing research academically. He looks at the statistics and polls. He quickly realizes that previous research just isn't enough to understand the complexity of a real community.

I'll leave the rest for you to discover. However, you should know that this is very easy read. The author had initially helped out in a chapter of Freakanomics, and I see why. He writes from the first person perspective and isn't shy to show his errors and naivity.

The Mousedriver Chronicles: The True- Life Adventures Of Two First-time Entrepreneurs
The Mousedriver Chronicles: The True- Life Adventures Of Two First-time Entrepreneurs
by John Lusk
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.97
27 used & new from CDN$ 2.42

5.0 out of 5 stars The reality show for product development., Aug. 3 2010
I've always had an interest in start-ups. Unlike the dot-coms or software companies,
which can be started in your parent's basement with nothing more than a five year old
desktop, manufacturing a physical product is a huge undertaking: tooling, production,
assembly, packaging, warehousing, distribution. It's a huge exercise in capital and
logistics. Even with my seven years of experience working for three different
manufacturers in three different industries, there are still steps in the process that remain
black holes for me. That's why The Mouse Driver Chronicles is an important read.
The Mouse Driver Chronicles follows the start-up of a niche computer mouse
manufacturer in 1999. Their product: a computer mouse that looks similar to the head,
or driver, of a golf club. The initially over-confident heroes and authors, Kyle Harrison
and John Lusk, are two wet-behind-the-ears Wharton MBAs. Instead of dropping into a
dot-com or chasing a desk job on Wall Street, they decide to strike out on their own as
manufacturers'from scratch.

Half as a marketing exercise and half as social-networking before Facebook, the duo
decide to document their project in a regular e-mail newsletter, which forms the basis of
their book. This explains the highly readable nature of their writing. They avoid theory
and lengthy explanation in favour of entertaining anecdotes and relatable insights. This is
the first business book I've encountered that can be read over a weekend (it's that short)
and without taking notes!

As an industrial designer, the initial entertainment is provided by the typical naďve
marketing-boy mistakes. The first is their over-optimistic development cycle (hey, it's
just a mouse, right?). They find out, the hard way, that a rough drawing provides a lot of
space for errors as their initial tooling results in a distorted hall-of-mirrors form of their
vision. The laughs continue when it takes months for the supplier to translate 'make it
silver' into an acceptable colour. Who knew? Lastly, is their bold claim that, 'this is a
high-end luxury product'. Uh'a product without the 3000 prototypes of the Dyson
vacuum or the million dollar Apple modeling budget is going to bang out a high-end
product using an off-shore supplier that they never even bother to visit? Are these guys
nuts?

However, after that distasteful turn, comes the real education for designers. How to find
financing: credit cards and personal lines of credit (with a healthy dose of love-money).
How to sell: network, tradeshows and a variety of distributors. Where to keep your
stock: the kitchen, distributors and printing shops (they also market their mouse as a
customizable promotional item, like pens and baseball caps). How to advertise cheap:
tell a good story.

That's the real value of this book, demystifying all these steps to bringing a product to
market. And in these times where jobs are scarce and the option of freelancing is equally
difficult, I hope some designers will be inspired by this story to strike out on their own.

Touching From A Distance Film Tie In Edition
Touching From A Distance Film Tie In Edition
by Deborah Curtis
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.91

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, great for JD fans, interesting look at music industry/psychology, Nov. 14 2008
This book is interesting in a number of ways, but I think mostly for the die-hard JD fan. It's interesting in terms of the history of Joy Division, an inside look at the music industry and the psychological sketch of a man about to kill himself.

To begin, I think I should warn interested parties that Deborah Curtis is not exactly Hemingway, which let's this book down a bit in terms of conveying the feeling of being there. However, she is a pretty good journalist. She seems to hit all of the important bits and does a good job of pulling in stories from the other Joy Division band members and stakeholders.

I think that interest in the book from a historical perspective goes without saying, so I won't really talk about it. However, more interesting was the look at the music industry. Joy Division today is an internationally known band and has spawn many products, cover songs and inspired a lot of people to start making music. Although, the success of Joy Division was never shared by the heart of the group, Ian Curtis. He reportedly made no more than 2500 UK pounds from making music over the course of about two years. Deborah Curtis puts this into words for us. She talks about nearly having her phone cut off because they couldn't afford the bill, barely being able to afford food and just generally having to live pay-check to pay-check and gig to gig. It certainly does not romanticize the rock band.

Another element is the pressure that was brought to bare on both Ian and the other members of the band. Although Deborah Curtis makes sure to not indict anyone for Ian's decision to kill himself, she certainly paints record company management and JD's manager as being self-serving at the cost of Ian's health.

The other members of JD come off as very innocent, both in their reaction to Ian's obvious problems and the music industry. Peter Hook, their bass player, puts it best when he says, "They [bars/club owners/record companies] still think musicians are stupid. In fact, I'd agree with them on that; most of them are pretty stupid." Although JD dealt poorly with the business of music, they come across as warm people. Bernard Sumner befriends Ian and tries to shock him into thinking different after his first suicide attempt, Stephen Morris's cautious relationship to Gillian Gilbert and Peter Hook's condolences after Ian's funeral are just some examples that stay in my mind.

Lastly, there is the psychological element of the book. Deborah Curtis is not a doctor, and she plainly explains that we will never know exactly what caused Ian to commit suicide. However, she supposes that Ian tormented himself, internalizing all the perceived pain that he felt he had caused. This might be shown best when he tries to defend his affair by meekly saying that it was too cruel to tell his mistress that he didn't want to see her again.

Overall, I would only recommend this book to those into Joy Division in particular and the business of music in general. Good book!

Drive On!
Drive On!
by L Setright
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 111.64

5.0 out of 5 stars The authority on automobiles, Oct. 4 2006
This review is from: Drive On! (Paperback)
The late LJK Setright pocessed the greatest amount of automotive and engineering knowledge of any journalist. In Drive On, he lays out all of the highlights of the first century of the automobile. From the first tinkerings of mechanics in Europe, to the refinement by French engineers, to the simplification of American businessmen...it's all here.

While the knowledge in this book is vast, it's one drawback is editing. It reads closer to a collection of journal articles than a book. Perhaps it started as spare articles from Setright's days writing for Autocar and Car magazines. In any case, it seems to jump around a bit.

Get Back In The Box: Innovation from the Inside Out
Get Back In The Box: Innovation from the Inside Out
by Douglas Rushkoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.36
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.26

5.0 out of 5 stars An inspirational view of the future of business, July 9 2006
Throughout the 20th century business has been fine-tuned to deliver incredible amounts of productivity. This has been through corporate organization, division of labor, an increasing openness of management to listen to and involve labor and changing the package of incentives to workers. What Rushkoff outlines in "Get Back in the Box" flips this upside down. To me, he is really asking, 'where do we want to take business tommorow?'.

Rushkoff answers that by looking at companies that have managed to succeed, and continued their success. The keys come down to a few broad themes, first, realize what is motivating workers of today and learn to treat your consumers in a more human manor.

The first breaks down to realizing that todays workers are less inspired by the corner office and more inspired by exciting work. Moreover, workers expect fair compensation for their work, and are uselessly distracted by fighting for raises or protecting retirement funds.

The second part means two things: don't treat your costumer like an idiot, but also, be careful how much you listen to them. Rushkoff exposes some companies that are so busy protecting themselves from lawsuits, and guarding their copyrights that they end up alienating their customers and losing business. It all boils down to companies thinking that what they own (IP) is more important than getting it out to customers. In Rushkoff's previous books, he's explored the world of conultants like "cool hunters" trying to track down the next big trend. In this book, he takes us into the world of companies making bold decisions because they know their product. Sure enough, the customer often follows.

Overall, a great book for both business people looking forward and workers trying to inspire change.

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