Inside The Stern Pinball Factory, Again

About six months after the Popular Mechanics article about the last great pinball factory, Stearns gets the video treatment from the Onion’s A.V. Club. Stearn is the “oldest and largest designer and manufacturer of arcade-quality pinball games [remaining] on the planet”

I was surprised to learn that about fifty percent of all pinball machines produced by Stern are exported out of the country. Additionally, most of the parts are manufactured in Chicago and the machines are hand assembled. I think if Trump truly wants to throw some money at American manufacturing the pinball machine industry would be a great place to start.

Inside The Stearn Pinball Factory

Manufacturing as a whole in America has been suffering. Add to that the fact that video game consoles have entered millions of homes since the early 90s and you have a perfect storm that has resulted in the shuttered and faltering sales of major pinball manufacturers for decades. A great pinball machine requires a vast amount of craftsmanship, and one of largest producing places you’ll find that kind of work happening today is at Stern Pinball. Last month Popular Mechanics went inside of Stearn Pinball manufacturing facility to see how a 21st-century pinball machine comes together. It examines the process by dividing it into four main sections:

  • Finding a license
  • Designing the game
  • Sub-Assembly
  • Assembly and testing
  • While there won’t be anything new in the article for enthusiasts, it is an excellent primer on pinball manufacturing in America. What pinball machines and manufacturers has sold the most over the years? The table below could give some insight.

    [table id=4 responsive=collapse /]

    John Oliver Forgives Nearly $15 Million In Medical Debt

    John Oliver incorporated the Central Asset Recovery Professionals (CARP, named for the bottom-feeders) debt collection firm for $50 and purchased $60,000 in medical debt. He then promptly forgave the debt allowing 9,000 people to walk away from nearly $15 Million in zombie medical debt. Debt collection is a grimy and under-regulated business and John Oliver does a great job of lambasting their predatory practices.

    It should be noted that back in 2012, Occupy Wall Street did a similar thing called a Rolling Jubilee

    Vulfpeck Makes $20,000 Off Of A Silent Album While Sleeping

    Brilliant! The funk band Vulfpeck made $20,000 in streaming revenues from Spotify for an album of complete silence. All ten tracks of the album, titled “Sleepify”, were streamed by fans on repeat all night while they slept. The tracks on “Sleepify” – cleverly titled “Z” through “Zzzzzzzzzz” – are all 31 or 32 seconds long. This is the minimum length a song must be played to be considered a payable ‘listen’ by spotify. The band earned somewhere between $3 and $4 dollars a night per fan.

    The album was originally released to generate money so that the band could go on tour and not charge admission fees but Spotify has asked Vulfpeck to remove the album because it broke Spotify’s terms of content – Vulfpeck complied.

    “Sleepify” is by far Vulpeck’s most commercially successful album to date which is a bummer because these guys are really pretty good. Give it a listen if you like funky themes, TV anthems, and laid-back instrumentals. Then go buy their album.

    [bandcamp width=100% height=42 album=2653417828 size=small bgcol=ffffff linkcol=63b2cc]

    Occupy Your Personal Debt

    Occupy Wall Street has come up with an incredible financial hack that promises to help people by subverting a predatory financial system with a Rolling Jubilee. David Rees’s explains:

    OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

    This is a simple, powerful way to help folks in need — to free them from heavy debt loads so they can focus on being productive, happy and healthy. As you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!

    Hopefully this will help catalyze some sort of structural change like a law that says than any time a debt is sold, the debtor should have right of first refusal (If a debt collection agency can buy my debt for pennies on the dollar, I should be offered the opportunity to pay it off at the same discount.) and at the same time it will help individuals being crushed with debt.

    The 57 Varieties Of Heinz

    The “57 Varieties” slogan was not developed because their product line included exactly 57 varieties. In fact, there were over 60 products when the slogan was proposed. The number 57 was picked by H.J. Heinz by combining his and his wife’s luck numbers. However, to print his “57 varieties” in his cookbooks (The Heinz Book of Meat Cookery, 1934, H.J. Heinz Company) he needed to combine a few products. The list, as it was printed in their cookbooks, can be found below. Today, the H.J. Heinz company has over 5,700 products.

    apple butter
    apple jelly
    baked beans in tomato sauce without meat
    baked beans with pork and tomato sauce
    baked beans without tomato sauce with Boston-style pork
    baked red kidney beans
    beefsteak sauce
    black raspberry preserves
    blackberry preserves
    cherry preserves
    chili sauce
    chow chow pickles
    cooked macaroni
    cooked spaghetti
    crab-apple jelly
    cream of celery soup
    cream of pea soup
    cream of tomato soup
    currant jelly
    damson plum preserves
    dill pickles
    distilled white vinegar
    evaporated horseradish
    fig pudding
    grape jelly
    green pepper sauce
    homestyle gravy
    India relish
    manzanilla olives
    mince meat
    peach preserves
    peanut butter
    plum pudding
    prepared mustard
    preserved sweet gherkins
    preserved sweet mixed pickles
    pure cider vinegar
    pure malt vinegar
    pure olive oil
    queen olives
    quince jelly
    red pepper sauce
    red raspberry preserves
    ripe olives
    salad dressing
    sour midget gherkins
    sour mixed pickles
    sour pickled onions
    sour spiced gherkins
    strawberry preserves
    stuffed olives
    sweet midget gherkins
    sweet mustard pickles
    tarragon vinegar
    tomato ketchup
    worcestershire sauce

    The 20 Most Expensive Keyword Categories In Google AdWords

    A company called Wordstream has done some research to discover which keyword categories fetch the highest costs per click (CPC) in Google’s AdWords solution.
    According to Wordstream these are the top twenty keywords that demand the highest costs per click:

    1. Insurance (example keyword: “auto insurance price quotes”)
    2. Loans (example keyword: “consolidate graduate student loans”)
    3. Mortgage (example keyword: “refinanced second mortgages”)
    4. Attorney (example keyword: “personal injury attorney”)
    5. Credit (example keyword: “home equity line of credit”)
    6. Lawyer
    7. Donate
    8. Degree
    9. Hosting
    10. Claim
    11. Conference Call
    12. Trading
    13. Software
    14. Recovery
    15. Transfer
    16. Gas/Electricity
    17. Classes
    18. Rehab
    19. Treatment
    20. Cord Blood

    According to Wordstream the words ‘insurance’ and ‘gas/electricity’ can net Google up to almost $55 per click while the words ‘claim’ and ‘loan’ can bring in $45.

    The word The list of most expensive keyword categories is clearly a result from people who, en masse, turn to the Web in search for help, whether it’s for financial, educational, professional services or medical aid. WordStream concludes that the keyword categories with the highest volumes and costs represent industries with very high lifetime customer value: in other words, companies that can afford to pay a lot to acquire a new customer because of the nature of their business.


    When I was in the commercial real estate business it wasn’t uncommon for me to see a 100-year lease signed by a manufacturer or distributor for a large or complex industrial building, but Guinness has really shown it’s ability to commit:

    Leased for 9,000 years in 1759 by Arthur Guinness at £45 per year, St. James’s Gate has been the home of Guinness ever since. It became the largest brewery in Ireland in 1838, and was the largest in the world in 1914, covering 64 acres. Although no longer the largest brewery in the world, it is still the largest brewer of stout in the world.

    via Bobulate

    Child Hunger: Watching Wal-Mart At Midnight

    Historical US Poverty Rate
    source: US Census Bureau Current Population Reports

    This is what a rising poverty level looks like. Bill Simon (Head of Wal-Mart operations) says more Americans paying necessary goods with government assistance. The desperation in the U.S. consumer can be seen in their current buying behaviors.

    The paycheck cycle we’ve talked about before remains extreme.

    And you need not go further than one of our stores on midnight at the end of the month. And it’s real interesting to watch, about 11 p.m., customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items, baby formula, milk, bread, eggs, and continue to shop and mill about the store until midnight, when electronic — government electronic benefits cards get activated and then the checkout starts and occurs. And our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher.

    And if you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they’ve been waiting for it. Otherwise, we are open 24 hours — come at 5 a.m., come at 7 a.m., come at 10 a.m. But if you are there at midnight, you are there for a reason. And we have to look at that and we have to watch that and we have a commitment to serve those customers who need that. And we are very, very focused on that.

    I think this says a lot about the tepid U.S. economic recovery (or lack thereof). You can download a full transcript of the the talk Simon gave at the Goldman Sachs Retail Conference last week.

    CEO Reading Lists

    Back in July, Fortune polled a number of executives to find out what’s on their summer reading list. They’re read everything from books about the financial crisis to tomes on history’s great leaders. Of course there are a number management self-help and how-do-I-run-this-damn-company? books, as well as a handful of fiction. The results of the poll are below:

    Brad Alford, Chairman and CEO, Nestlé USA

    • 1776, by David McCullough
    • Drive, by Daniel Pink
    • A paperback spy or mystery novel from the airport

    Mary Erdoes, CEO, JP Morgan Asset Management

    Jim O’Donnell, President, BMW

    Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO, The Ladders

    Alan Miller, CEO, Universal Health

    Greg Sebasky, CEO, Philips Electronics North America

    Lisa Stone, CEO, BlogHer

    Tom Wilson, CEO, Allstate

    Gilbert Harrison, Chairman, Financo, Inc.

    George Barrett, CEO, Cardinal Health

    Heath Golden, CEO, Hampshire Group

    Christine Jacobs, CEO and President, Theragenics Corporation

    Les Berglass, Chairman, Berglass and Associates

    Jim Greenwood, CEO, Concentra

    Stephen Wiehe, CEO, SciQuest

    Scroll to Top