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Harry gives his sister brilliant advice. How serious is this pandemic, really?

On my brilliant advice, my sister, Barbara, bought Zoom.

It promptly fell big-time.

She asked, “What should I buy now?”

She’s either a glutton for punishment or loves her brother excessively. I suspect the former, but hope the latter.

I told her to buy Apple and Amazon, which are expanding their businesses in wondrous ways — especially Amazon and its amazing Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Today, stocks are on sale.

More (and better) intelligence online:

From my daughter, Claire:

In my humble opinion I’m an online shopping connoisseur. Best in my book are Target, Shopify and Etsy. Target is much cheaper for everyday items like toilet paper, washing detergent etc than Amazon who marks up prices for Prime (free delivery) and various other costs. At Target you get the store prices and free shipping over $35,which is obviously very easy to hit.

Their car pick-up service at the store is a dream. I tell Target when I’m coming and they deliver my items into my trunk. Terrific!

Shopify is the easiest interface for shopping from local stores. Tierra Farm (which sells nuts and raisins) uses Shopify. I am very happy when I reach the checkout at a local retailer and see I’m dealing with a Shopify store.

You’re wrong about Etsy. I absolutely love it. Order from it all the time. The idea that it’s all tchotchke crap is wrong. Really good artists and artisans are on it.

My daughter is right, ETSY and Shopify have done brilliantly, much better than Amazon (in red) and much, much better than Target (in blue).

How Serious Is This Pandemic, really?

Out west there are several adjoining states with wildly differing ideas about covid. One state has no restrictions and everything is open. The next door state has big restrictions. So people in that state travel to the next door state to shop, to party, to dance, to get sick.

Well, you’re already figured it out. The state with no restrictions has spiking cases. And the state with restrictions… Well, it’s a big mess, but an interesting mess.

ProPublica ran a story yesterday:

States With Few Coronavirus Restrictions Are Spreading the Virus Beyond Their Borders
Lax states are attracting shoppers and students from stricter neighbors — and sending back COVID-19 cases. The imbalance underscores the lack of a national policy.

And the article (which is long) contained these delicious paragraphs, which I quote word-for-word:

A group of Idaho politicians, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, appeared in a video in October urging the state to limit restrictions. Sitting in a truck with an American flag draped over the side, McGeachin placed a gun over a Bible. “We recognize that all of us by nature are free and equal and have certain inalienable rights,” she said. A legislator in the video said “the pandemic may or may not be occurring.”

State Rep. Tony Wisniewski, who represents Kootenai and also appeared in the video, urged the health board to make masks optional. He compared the mask mandate to what he said was a requirement in Nazi Germany to tell authorities if a neighbor was Jewish. (Harry’s bolding.)

Health board member Allen Banks said he was “deeply suspicious” of tests for COVID-19. In an email to a senator who had criticized the board’s mask mandate, he wrote, “I hope you and the legislators who support your effort will continue to stand for truth rather than the fantasy of a phony disease based on a false test.”

Board member Walt Kirby, who had voted in July to approve the mask mandate initially, was the deciding vote. He opposed a mandate because people were “pretty damn nasty” to him for supporting it before, he explained. “I am not going to vote for it, I am just not because no one is wearing the damn masks anyway,” Kirby said, adding that he wears a mask. As for people who ignore the advice of public health experts, he said, “I am just sitting back and watching them catch it and die and hopefully I will live through it. You know I am 90 years old already and I am not getting involved in it anymore.” (More Harry bolding.)

Even as the requirement was rescinded, cases in Kootenai were soaring. The rate of hospitalizations in the border area in northern Idaho is nearly double the rate in the Spokane region. Overall, the number of new cases in Idaho per capita is almost twice that of Washington. (Which is more restrictive.)

With the county mandate overturned, the city of Coeur d’Alene considered in late October whether to adopt one on its own. Mayor Steve Widmyer and the City Council were inundated with hundreds of emails and telephone calls, many from mask opponents.

“This is Idaho, not Washington or California,” wrote one resident. “Let the people decide if they wish to mask up or not.” Another told the city leaders, “If you want to live with a mask `muzzle’ on your face move to California or Washington.”

Ball, Gilliard’s ex-wife, urged Widmyer to support a mandate. “People come here so they don’t have to wear a mask and fill our bars and businesses while spreading covid,” she wrote. (Jim Guillard died from covid, He’s the focus of the story.)

This is a sad obituary

Tony Hsieh, Longtime Chief of Zappos, Is Dead at 46
In the early days of online retailing, he realized that the key to success was making people feel comfortable and secure shopping on the internet.

Tony Hsieh, the technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist who built Zappos into a $1 billion internet shoes and clothing powerhouse, died on Friday in Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, Conn. He was 46.

The cause was injuries suffered in a house fire on Nov. 18 in New London, Conn., according to Megan Fazio, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, a revitalization effort which Mr. Hsieh oversaw.

Mr. Hsieh (pronounced shay) was apparently visiting family at the time. His death was confirmed by Zappos in a statement from the company’s chief executive, Kedar Deshpande. Further details about the fire or its cause were not immediately available.

Mr. Hsieh stepped down as chief executive in August after 21 years with the company, which began selling shoes online in 1999.

Having sold his first company, LinkExchange, an online advertising network, to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million, Mr. Hsieh became a venture capitalist and invested in a San Francisco-based retail shoe start-up, then called ShoeSite.com.

He quickly took over as C.E.O. and focused his efforts on building the company into an internet giant. (The name was changed to Zappos.com, an adaptation of “zapatos,” the Spanish word for shoes, according to the company website.)

In the nascent period of internet commerce, Mr. Hsieh was a visionary who realized that getting customers to feel comfortable and secure buying online was the key to success and growth.

To do that, employees in the call center had to engage customers as if speaking to an old friend, with authentic-sounding welcoming banter. He also realized that buyers needed to try on shoes, so Zappos offered free overnight shipping and free return shipping, often sending customers multiple pairs at a time.

Mr. Hsieh surprised the Silicon Valley world by moving the company from San Francisco to a suburb of Las Vegas, where he built a culture of “fun and a little weirdness” that resulted in skyrocketing growth.

From $1.6 million in sales in 2000, Zappos surpassed $1 billion in revenues by 2009. In July 2009, Mr. Hsieh sold the company for $1.2 billion to Amazon.

Mr. Hsieh, a soft-spoken and introspective executive, developed a philosophy of business built around the idea that happy employees were the conduit to satisfied customers who would return again and again.

An avid reader, he wrote a best-selling book, “Delivering Happiness,” in 2010, describing his customer service philosophy.


Mr. Hsieh in 2014 with President Bill Clinton at the annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative. Mr. Hsieh’s 2010 book, “Delivering Happiness,” described his customer service philosophy. Credit…Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

During his tenure at Zappos, Mr. Hsieh launched the Downtown Project, aimed at revitalizing the once-neglected downtown of Las Vegas and turning it into a vibrant area where Zappos employees would live. The effort grew beyond Mr. Hsieh’s original concept and the area has attracted thousands of technology workers and entrepreneurs.

“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas,” Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada wrote on Twitter.

Tony Hsieh was born on Dec. 12, 1973, in Illinois to Richard and Judy Hsieh, immigrants from Taiwan who met in graduate school at the University of Illinois. His father was a chemical engineer and his mother was a social worker.

The family moved to California when Tony was 5. The oldest of three boys, he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Survivors include his parents and his brothers Andy and Dave, Ms. Fazio said.

Mr. Hsieh graduated from Harvard with a degree in computer science in 1995 and after a short stint at the Oracle Corporation, he co-founded LinkExchange.

Approached by Nick Swinmurn in 1999 with the idea of selling shoes online, Mr. Hsieh overcame initial skepticism and invested. As the concept gained traction, he contemplated ways to spur growth.

In a 2009 profile in Briefings magazine, Mr. Hsieh described himself as a lifelong skeptic who sneered at psychology and philosophy. But his computer science background led him to believe that happiness could be studied as a science. Rather than assuming happiness is achieved haphazardly, he began to read about the distinct characteristics that made people happy.

People assume that achieving a certain goal or winning the lottery will bring lasting happiness, he said, but it rarely does. “Most of the frameworks for happiness conclude that there are four things required: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (meaning the depths of relationships) and being part of something bigger than yourself.”

To that end, he argued that building a culture based on these tenets would lead to Zappos long-term success. The company attracted both technology types as well as refugees from the gaming and hospitality industries in Las Vegas.

Zappos was extremely choosy, hiring just 1 percent of applicants. Word spread quickly about the corporate culture, and people started showing up at the company’s headquarters to take tours.

Over time, Mr. Hsieh pushed the culture envelope. In 2013, he announced that the company would eliminate all titles and managers to embrace a “holacratic” structure. A world without bosses had an appeal, but not to everyone. A few hundred employees, or 14 percent of the work force, uncomfortable in that structure, accepted a buyout and left.

Mr. Hsieh refused to embrace the trappings of a conventional chief executive. He lived in a 240-square-foot Airstream trailer in a small trailer park that he built in downtown Las Vegas.

He insisted on a $36,000 annual salary and he sat in an unassuming cubicle among the other employees. When Zappos set up a new warehouse in Kentucky, he packed a pickup truck with materials, drove to Kentucky and got to work bolting together shelves and unpacking shoes.

Amazon had approached Mr. Hsieh about an acquisition in 2005 and Mr. Hsieh refused. But in 2008, with a recession hammering the economy, Amazon made a second overture and this time the Zappos board insisted that Mr. Hsieh take the offer. The feeling among some board members was that Mr. Hsieh’s business philosophy made for good public relations but would not spur growth in a difficult economy.

Visiting Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chairman in Seattle, Mr. Hsieh was impressed by the similarities in the two corporate cultures and also, the offer by Mr. Bezos that Zappos would operate as an independent entity with the same management team.

“I get all weak-kneed when I see a customer-obsessed company and Zappos is definitely that,” Mr. Bezos said in a video welcome to Zappos employees. “I’ve seen a lot of companies and I’ve never seen a culture like Zappos.”

The obit is from the New York Times. Click here.

Several great cartoons

It’s snowing up here in Columbia County

But we played tennis inside at the magnificent Old Chatham Tennis Club, managed by the brilliant Jill Gerrain. Call (518-392-7966),  make an appointment, play tennis. More fun than staring at your laptop and wondering why you can’t hear your workmate on Zoom. Hint: he needs a lapel microphone.

See you tomorrow. — Harry Newton