Daniel McGinn

Stories by Daniel McGinn

  • Rent or Buy That DVD?

    A few weeks ago I slipped out for a long lunch to take my wife and two older kids to see "Curious George." Even matinee tickets cost a total of $27, but seeing my children enjoy the cartoon version of the book we've read countless times was... well, you've seen the MasterCard commercial. Of course, we could have waited a few months, and for slightly less money I could have purchased the DVD. Or we could have watched it for no extra cost on cable or by renting through Blockbuster Online, where we get unlimited rentals for a flat monthly fee.But for a fun winter outing, it was worth the expense.I share this unimportant calculus because it's emblematic of the new world that consumers of entertainment face. How we navigate such choices has become a big focus, both in Hollywood and beyond. Movie theaters are selling fewer tickets as more people decide they'd rather watch movies in their family rooms (or snazzy home theaters) instead of paying to go to the cinema. And Blockbuster lost ...
  • Apartments: Celebration of Small

    In real estate, there's one variable that buyers value nearly as much as "location, location, location": square footage. The average newly built U.S. home contains 2,350 square feet, up 57 percent since 1970. But Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, a New York interior designer, believes many people can live comfortably in drastically smaller spaces if they choose furniture and possessions sparingly and arrange them wisely. Gillingham-Ryan himself lives with his wife in a 250-square-foot Manhattan apartment, and this week his Web site, apartmenttherapy.com, will launch its second annual Smallest, Coolest Apartment Contest.Last year's contest limited entrants, who e-mail digital photos of their abodes, to New Yorkers living in 500 square feet or less. This year, the contest has gone national and upped the cutoff to 650 square feet. Gillingham-Ryan, whose new book, "Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure," arrives in bookstores this month, says the key to making small spaces work is to...
  • Larry, We Hardly Knew Ye

    At noon last Wednesday, several hundred Harvard students filed into a lecture hall and opened their notebooks. Harvard president Lawrence Summers had announced his resignation less than 24 hours earlier, but the students in Life Sciences 1B had an exam to prepare for. So instead of gossiping, they listened closely as their professor explained how to use statistical techniques like Bayes's Theorem to estimate whether diseases will be passed from one generation to the next. It's a lecture that owes its existence, in part, to their soon-to-be ex-president. Life Sciences 1B is a new course, introduced in September as part of Summers's push to get undergraduates jazzed up about science. Its syllabus draws from cutting-edge topics in biology, chemistry and statistics. "The idea here is to completely change how students are introduced to the life sciences," says Prof. Robert Lue, who oversees the course.As news of Summers's resignation spread through Cambridge, Mass., and beyond last week,...
  • Having Grape Expectations

    It's a rainy day in wine country as a team of laborers works its way through the lush vineyards at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, Calif. Carefully they prune the vines, getting the plants ready to produce the grapes whose juice will yield $125 bottles of Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Inside the Mission-style buildings that comprise one of the region's most celebrated wineries, some things remain unchanged. Portraits of founder Robert Mondavi, now 92, look down on visitors who stroll toward the tasting room. But throughout the establishment, there's a newfound sense of efficiency. Those vine pruners are subcontractors, who'll finish the job more quickly than the employees who used to do it. The winery once produced three Merlots--now it makes just one. Not long ago Mondavi wasan undercapitalized mess. But now, says Jean-Michel Valette, the Harvard M.B.A. and former investment banker who is Mondavi's chairman, "it's a more centered, calmer place, brimming with optimism....
  • A Shattered Family

    It's a lesson taught at every police academy (and by common sense): if someone flees a crime scene, there's reason to be suspicious. And if the person hops a flight to London, leaving behind his murdered wife and daughter, and skipping their funeral, the case shouldn't require Sherlock Holmes. And so there was a sense of relief last week when London police arrested Neil Entwistle, 27, who will be extradited to the United States to face charges of killing his wife, Rachel, 27, and 9-month-old daughter, Lillian, in Hopkinton, Mass., on Jan. 20.The case had, to say the least, gotten off to a rocky start. Despite repeated searches of the Entwistle home by family, neighbors and police, the bodies went undiscovered for several days, hidden under a pile of comforters in the master bedroom. The resulting uncertainty over the time of deaths led prosecutors to admit early on that they couldn't even tell if Entwistle was in the country at the time of the killings. Although prosecutors...
  • NASCAR's Hot Numbers

    Until 2003, Stefan Kretschmann followed three sports: baseball, football and hockey. Then he watched his first NASCAR race. He was hooked. "I just love the strategy of it," he says. To better understand the action, Kretschmann began TiVo-ing races and keeping a database to track which drivers were involved in accidents. Next he developed his own computer model--based on qualifying times and starting positions--to predict which drivers should do well in each race. It may sound like a strange hobby, but Kretschmann, 34, a former Marquette University math major, works as a systems manager at Stats LLC, a firm that produces analytical statistics for pro baseball, football and other sports. His role as auto racing's self-appointed data czar remained a private pursuit until last year, when NASCAR called his company to request a meeting. As soon as NASCAR's gearheads and number crunchers sat down together, ideas started to fly. Together, they began working to invent a system that may...
  • First Person: One Lawyer's Guide to Safe Skiing

    Driven by heavy snowfall out west, this could be a record season for America's ski resorts. But even as more skiers don helmets, it can still be a dangerous activity: each year roughly three dozen skiers die in accidents, and dozens more suffer brain injuries or paralysis. Despite legislation that limits resorts' liability, each year a few of these injuries result in lawsuits--many brought by Denver attorney James Chalat, the sport's leading plaintiff's lawyer. To get his views on the state of ski safety, NEWSWEEK spent a morning in his tracks amid the moguls of Vail, Colo.At the University of Michigan, Chalat raced on the ski team; he taught his four children to ski and believes it's generally a safe activity. Most skier deaths, he says, involve young, unhelmeted males who hit trees while skiing recklessly. Still, he wishes resorts paid for their own personnel to wear helmets. And he wishes operations crews were more careful about moving grooming equipment on slopes filled with...
  • Finances: The Magic Number

    In his younger years, Lee Eisenberg didn't think much about the size of his portfolio. As an editor at Esquire, he was busy coining terms like "power lunch" and pioneering rotisserie baseball. But when he hit his 50s, he began to obsess about whether he'd saved enough for retirement--and his friends began worrying about their portfolios, too. So Eisenberg spent time reporting among these nervous baby boomers and the financial consultants, wealth advisers and life coaches who help assuage--or cash in on--this anxiety.The result is "The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life." Eisenberg traces how the American system of pensions gave way to a shakier future of "salary-reduction programs"--early lingo for 401(k)s. He looks at how, despite all those Web sites telling us how much to save to retire comfortably, most people remain in denial or uncertain about what their number really is. (He cites one financial planner who asks clients if they floss their...
  • A 'Good to Great' Second Act

    In certain professions, there's a standard set of ambitions. Every TV star wants to be in movies. Every teeny-bopper starlet wants to record an album. And among business-book authors, there's a universal desire to write a crossover hit, a tome that appeals to folks who prefer Us Weekly to The Wall Street Journal and couldn't tell a widget from a wedgie. And in early 2001, Jim Collins hoped for that kind of breakthrough. Collins was already a superstar among the M.B.A. set thanks to "Built to Last," the 1994 book he'd coauthored that had spent years on best-seller lists. But in 2001 he was due to release his next book, "Good to Great." He knew it'd get plenty of attention from business junkies. But what he really hoped for, he told NEWSWEEK before the title hit bookstores, was that it'd be read by school principals and church pastors. After years of helping businesses boost profits, Collins hoped to teach America's do-gooders to do even better.He's getting his wish. "Good to Great"...
  • Grads: Helping Get That First Job

    As marketing executives, D. A. Hayden and Michael Wilder routinely interviewed new college graduates--and they often came away appalled. "I wanted to tell them, 'If you'd only done this [differently], I would have invited you back'," Hayden says. Now she can give that blunt feedback--and charge for it. In September, she cofounded a Boston-based firm, Hayden-Wilder, which offers customized packages of one-on-one counseling, homework assignments, videotaped interview critiques and networking referrals. The average charge: $3,000. Clients like Caroline Dabney, a 2005 graduate of Hamilton College, say it's worth it. "They gave me a lot more confidence," says Dabney.Career coaches have been around for decades, but most focus on middle-aged folks who've been downsized or are changing careers. College students traditionally have relied on free counseling at campus career centers. But now a generation of affluent kids whose parents paid for SAT prep courses and pricey college-search...
  • XXX Blue, Spending Green

    It's the start of the movie-awards season--not just in Hollywood, but over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, home to the pornography industry. This week Adult Video News will announce nominees for its annual show, held in Las Vegas each January. And one film seems poised to pile up honors the way "The Aviator" dominated this year's Oscars. "Pirates," released in September, is already being hailed as a blue movie for the ages.Filmed in California and Florida at a cost of more than $1 million (its producer calls it the most expensive porno in history), it features lavish special effects, epic sea battles and skillful swordplay. The director of "Pirates," who uses the name Joone, says he decided to splurge for a high-quality film that would stand out from the low-budget clutter. So far it's paid off: he says it's already sold more than 100,000 copies. (Many pornos sell just 5,000.) "This is a landmark achievement in our business," says Paul Fishbein, Adult Video News president. "The...
  • Get Me Out of This Line!

    When I need a rental car for a business trip, I give NEWSWEEK's travel agent a simple directive: "Whatever's cheapest." I'm not enough of a road warrior to be loyal to a particular rental brand, and I don't care whether they stick me in a Malibu or a Taurus. Which is why, a few months ago, I wound up in a line at a car-rental counter at the Phoenix airport, waiting... and then waiting some more. As the line barely crawled forward and any hope of making my lunch appointment dimmed, the clerks at the counter made periodic announcements that made my slow march even more irritating: "Anyone who's a member of our preferred club , please come right to the head of the line." It was an infuriating reminder that when it comes to car rentals, membership has its privileges.But it does come at a price. Unlike frequent-flier programs, which are usually free, some rental-car programs like Hertz #1 Gold and National's Emerald Club typically charge a $50 annual fee. Marketing pros call these "paid...
  • Hyped Over Skype

    In a back alley in London's SoHo district--amid the seedy sex shops, comic-book stores and coffee joints--you'll find the humble headquarters of one of the world's most important telecommunications companies. But it's not easy: only a tiny buzzer marks the door of a converted warehouse. The decor inside--IKEA furniture, a couple of limp potted plants, bike helmets strewn about the reception area--is the same as it was a year ago, when the company was still an obscure start-up. But the small workspace is more crowded nowadays, jammed with several dozen fleece-clad techies hunched over laptops. Together, they're expanding the reach of the online telephone service known as Skype--a prospect that has the $1 trillion global telecom industry downright terrified.Skype set up shop only three years ago. And since then, 61 million users in 225 countries have downloaded its free software, donned headsets and made free computer-to-computer phone calls. But its ascension onto the high-tech A...
  • Wal-Mart Hits the Wall

    Andrew Grossman was in his office at Wal-Mart Watch, opening the mail one day in September, when he came across a plain manila envelope with no return address. Inside he found a memo labeled "Memorandum to the Board of Directors From Susan Chambers." Hmmm. Grossman, the former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who's now an anti-Wal-Mart activist, Googled the name to learn that Chambers is the retailer's executive vice president for benefits. The draft memo described how 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart workers are uninsured or on Medicaid. It detailed how Wal-Mart's health plan requires such high out-of-pocket payments that the small number of employees hit by a very costly illness "almost certainly end up declaring personal bankruptcy." It also proposed that Wal-Mart rewrite job descriptions to involve more physical activity, in part to "dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart." "I was kind of shocked by it," Grossman says....
  • The Company Of Women

    Leslie Varon's boss lived by a simple rule: if he was in the office, she should be, too. In the early 1990s Varon worked in finance at Xerox, and the department's VP was an old-style organization man. "You could set your watch by the hours this man worked," Varon says, recalling 12-hour days that often began at 7 a.m. For Varon and her colleagues, that meant missing family dinners. After much discontent, they called a meeting. Couldn't they take work home in order to get out in time for supper? The boss agreed, slowly growing to believe that an employee's value lies in her work, not the hours spent at her desk. As for Varon, her earlier departures don't seem to have impeded her career: today she's Xerox's finance VP.Her status as a female officer would make her a rarity at many companies, but not at Xerox. The $15.7 billion document-management company is one of only nine in the Fortune 500 with a female CEO, but its gender diversity extends far beyond the corner office. Of Xerox's...
  • Vote Of Confidence

    As a young sociology professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter studied life in 19th-century utopian communities. By the late 1970s, however, her focus had shifted to a less idealized environment: the modern American corporation. Since then Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has authored 16 books; the latest is "Confidence: How Winning and Losing Streaks Begin and End." She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn about how confidence affects women's careers. Excerpts: ...
  • IN GOOD COMPANY

    Leslie Varon's boss lived by a simple rule: if he was in the office, she should be, too. In the early 1990s Varon worked in finance at Xerox, and the department's VP was an old-style organization man. "You could set your watch by the hours this man worked," Varon says, recalling 12-hour days that often began at 7 a.m. For Varon and her colleagues, that meant missing family dinners. After much discontent, they called a meeting. Couldn't they take work home in order to get out in time for supper? The boss agreed, slowly growing to believe that an employee's value lies in her work, not the hours spent at her desk. As for Varon, her earlier departures don't seem to have impeded her career: today she's Xerox's finance VP.Her status as a female officer would make her a rarity at many companies, but not at Xerox. The $15.7 billion document-management company is one of only nine in the Fortune 500 with a female CEO, but its gender diversity extends far beyond the corner office. Of Xerox's...
  • A Movie Classic For a New Age

    Given his fondness for movies, it's not surprising that Reed Hastings thinks about the future of home entertainment in terms that sound like they're drawn straight from "Star Wars." The story line, according to the founder of the DVDs-by-mail pioneer Netflix, goes something like this: as DVDs slowly give way to online movies, consumers will face a stark choice. Will they side with the "Forces of Control" or the "Forces of Freedom"? The Forces of Control are the cable and satellite companies, which offer 50 to 500 channels of content that's chosen by network programmers.Opposing this bunch are the Forces of Freedom, a group of companies that includes Netflix, TiVo, Apple, AOL and Yahoo. Together the freedom fighters will offer something like 5 million channels via the Internet, giving consumers the ability to watch just about anything they'd like, whenever they'd like. "Instead of an electronic program guide that viewers scroll through with a remote control, the keyboard will be your...
  • Movies on The Move

    Dvd's have changed the way we watch movies, but they're not perfect. To watch one, you have to plan ahead, drive to a store to pick up a copy or go online (and wait for the mail carrier). That will change, says Sony Pictures Digital president Yair Landau, as cinephiles begin downloading movies over broadband Internet connections, just as music lovers now download MP3s. He told NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn how the advent of online movies will change the film industry. ...
  • Just The Ticket

    Given his fondness for movies, it's not surprising that Reed Hastings thinks about the future of home entertainment in terms that sound like they're drawn straight from "Star Wars." The story line, according to the founder of the DVDs-by-mail pioneer Netflix, goes something like this: as DVDs slowly give way to online movies, consumers will face a stark choice. Will they side with the "Forces of Control" or the "Forces of Freedom"? The Forces of Control are the cable and satellite companies, which offer 50 to 500 channels of content that's chosen by network programmers.Opposing this bunch are the Forces of Freedom, a group of companies that includes Netflix, TiVo, Apple, AOL and Yahoo. Together the freedom fighters will offer something like 5 million channels via the Internet, giving consumers the ability to watch just about anything they'd like, whenever they'd like. "Instead of an electronic program guide that viewers scroll through with a remote control, the keyboard will be your...
  • Download This

    DVDs have changed the way we watch movies, but they're not perfect. To watch one, you have to plan ahead, drive to a store to pick up a copy or go online (and wait for the mail carrier) to rent it from Netflix. That will change, says Sony Pictures Digital president Yair Landau, as cinephiles begin downloading movies over broadband Internet connections, just as music lovers now download MP3s. He told NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn how the advent of online movies will change the film industry.MCGINN: Is there currently a legal way for people to download movies?LANDAU: We started a legal download-movie service called Movielink several years ago. It's got five studios as partners, but right now it's strictly a rental service. Prices range from $1.99 to $4.99, and you can watch the movie for 24 hours on your PC. We've had limited success thus far. On a consumer-experience basis, it's not as easy or compelling as getting a DVD mailed to you. Right now, my hat's off to Netflix for recognizing...
  • Getting Really Into Your Closet

    Neil Balter's closet was a mess. A 17-year-old college student, Balter was sharing an apartment in Los Angeles with two friends back in 1978. To help his tiny closet better accommodate his stuff, he bought sheets of particleboard and replaced the standard single-bar-under-a-shelf setup with a customized stack of shelves, adorned with hanging bars at different levels. Then a friend's parents hired Balter to redo their closet. And then he did another. Before long the teenager had founded California Closets, the pioneer in the better-living-through-neater-closets company.A quarter century and countless cubbies later, the concept has caught on--big time. From cramped urban apartments to sprawling suburban manses, Americans are hiring professionals to fill their closets with laminate shelves, drawers, wicker baskets, nooks and other storage accoutrements worthy of Imelda Marcos. Though estimates vary, custom closets are at least a $1.5 billion industry. Add in do-it-yourself products and...
  • Ceo's: A Downside To Being An Insider

    It's been a hectic year for America's chief executives. In the first seven months of 2005, 777 CEOs left their jobs, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That's 90 percent ahead of 2004's pace. To replace them, boards are turning to outsiders with increasing frequency. While inside candidate Robert Iger won the year's highest-profile CEO derby by replacing Michael Eisner at Disney, in the last year directors at Nike, HP and Boeing have each hired outsiders for the top job.While shareholders want boards to pick the best candidate, imported talent inevitably costs more. During the book tour for his recent best seller "Winning," former General Electric chairman Jack Welch has pointed out the irony that when he chose among three GE subordinates to replace him, the two men he passed over (Bob Nardelli, now at Home Depot, and James McNerney, now at Boeing) wound up making better money than Jeff Immelt, GE's current chairman. Welch says if more companies developed future CEOs in...
  • BOOKS: BACK TO SCHOOL

    For years, anthropologist Rebekah Nathan studied life in a remote Third World village between stints of teaching at a big state university. But after years as a professor, she felt disconnected from her students. Why did so few do the assigned readings? Who told them it was OK to eat in class? To answer these questions, Nathan, who's in her 50s, enrolled as a freshman, moved into a dormitory and used her anthropology skills to study the tribal rituals of undergrads.The result is "My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student." Published under a pseudonym and without revealing where she teaches, the book is no "Animal House": due to her age, the prof avoided frat parties and instead focused on students' academic lives. The main lesson: time-management skills are key. She saw how profs' office hours often conflicted with her other classes. Deciding which reading assignments to skip was a necessary survival tactic. "I didn't really remember what it took to do this,"...
  • COLLEGES: FIGHTING THE DISH

    Each year, when the freshmen arrive at Boston College, the rumors spread around the cafeterias: cooks spray starch on the salad to make you fat, add laxatives to make you eat more and--gross!--use grade-D meat (there is, in fact, no such thing). When this buzz reached dining-services director Helen Wechsler last year, she thought the students were kidding. They weren't. To combat the problem, she designed myth-busting cards that will be placed on cafeteria tables this fall. (All meat is grade U.S. Choice or better, one clarifies.)Similar rumors make the rounds at other colleges. "The salad bar seems to be the place where we add the mystery sprays," says Matthew Biette, dining chief at Middlebury College, where rumors have spread about protein or diuretic sprays. Students' paranoia about doctored food is one reason college dining halls now feature open kitchens. That way, "there's not as much mystery in the way foods are prepared," says National Association of College &...
  • PSST! WANNA HOT DEAL?

    Until a few years ago, Judy Peterson, a special-education teacher who lives near Sacramento, Calif., had never heard of Pocatello, Idaho. Nor did Peterson, 59, ever expect to own any real estate aside from her own home. But last year, tired of earning mediocre stock-market returns, she cashed in her retirement accounts and spent $120,000 on a three-family house in Pocatello. Then she bought another property. And another. Today, Peterson owns eight rental units in the city, which she's visited just twice. "I have friends who go, 'You did what?' " she says. But with rental income paying the properties' mortgages, she's pleased. "You can't find investments like this in California," she says.You've heard about the current real-estate boom. You've read about investors who are "flipping" properties in hot markets like Las Vegas or Miami. Maybe you've even participated in a dinner-party discussion of what's becoming America's most tiresome question: will the housing bubble burst or not?...
  • 'TIS THE SEASON, ALWAYS

    What if most of your income arrived in a single paycheck around Thanksgiving, and you had to make ends meet for the rest of the year? That's an extreme example of "seasonality." Few firms face that challenge more than American Christmas Decorations, a $6.3 million company in the Bronx, N.Y., that designs and installs trees, wreaths and other holiday displays in offices and retail stores. "The most common question I'm asked is, 'What do you do the rest of the year?'" says CEO Fred Schwam, who took over the company from his father in 1988.In fact, signing up accounts and designing projects for existing customers like Radio City Music Hall and Saks keep Schwam's 20 employees busy year-round--even now during summer. Because so much of the installation work happens from late October to early December, Schwam hires up to 90 temporary workers; to smooth out the revenue stream, he typically collects a 50 percent down payment when a client signs on. Still, "everybody told me I couldn't just...
  • REWINDING A VIDEO GIANT

    As first dates go, this one couldn't have been more awkward. Last month John Antioco, the CEO of Blockbuster, flew to Manhattan to dine with Carl Icahn, the billionaire and former corporate raider. For weeks Icahn, who owns 9 percent of Blockbuster's shares, had publicly railed against Antioco's plans to invest millions to get the lagging movie-rental company growing again. Instead of trying to rejuvenate Blockbuster, Icahn argued, Antioco should just milk the mature business for cash. The two men's clash over the future of the company had recently culminated in a dramatic proxy fight, in which Icahn's side won three seats on Blockbuster's eight-member board. But at the dinner a few nights later, as both men recounted to NEWSWEEK, they called a truce. "I hope we're going to have a good working relationship," Icahn told Antioco, who replied, "Carl, for better or worse, we're in this together."If that sounds like something less than the start of a beautiful friendship, it's a...
  • Fresh Ideas

    There was a time when a business leader was someone straight from Central Casting. They were the suit-clad CEOs of the old-style blue chips--GM, Sony, Siemens--at the pinnacle of global business. Their records were judged by size--of profits, revenue, workforce. But times change, so in this installment of NEWSWEEK's series on 21st-Century Leadership, we're highlighting new thinkers whose influence is measured by the leading commodity in a knowledge economy: ideas. You'll meet the self-consciously provocative woman who is fighting to bring American publishing into the new-media age, a pioneer who has created a unique soup-to-nuts Internet conglomerate in Japan and the first entrepreneur from a small Latin American nation with the chutzpah to go global.If you suspect their jobs are more fun than those of traditional big-company bosses, you're probably correct. This has been a tough year for established leaders, especially recently dethroned CEOs like HP's Carly Fiorina or Carrefour's...