Saturday, May 31, 2008

Carl's New Car

From the previous announcement you can see that Carl is getting in shape physically, and for his mental end, I have heard that he enjoys long rides in his new vehicle, which you can see reviewed here.

Congrats to Carl

Carl hasn't said anything on the blog, but he just completed his first 5k run and from what I have heard he lived to tell about it. It may not seem like much to some, but I think it is a great thing for him to have completed. Carl is (or was) the most sedentary person I have ever known so I give him a hearty contratulations on this accomplishment and here's hoping he continues exercising in the future.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Lumpini

I have mentioned a few times that the trip I look forward to more than any other is my pending trip to Thailand, to view the fights at one of the big stadiums, either Lumpini or Rajadamnern. Today I surfed the web a bit and found this great fight from Lumpini. I absolutely love the slow pace at the beginning, where the fighters show their technique and allow the gamblers to place their bets. In the second video you see an absolute tour de force of true Muay Thai skills in the clench, with the crowd going ballistic, and the sad ending for one fighter that falls to a beautifully executed elbow. You may need to see the replay to catch it - it is pretty quick.



Cream of Asparagus Soup

Click any photo for larger.

Every spring a customer of mine comes in with a huge bag of freshly picked asparagus. That means that I will be eating it for several days straight, and will be making a large batch of Cream of Asparagus Soup as well. This year I got 15 pounds for a buck a pound. Best! I had a ton for myself and plenty to give away as well. My whole family loves the stuff - my kids even like eating it raw.

I don't have a recipe to link you to on this one as I always do it off the top of my head. I probably found it on the interweb somewhere sometime.

You need:
  • About 2 pounds asparagus (chop into half inch pieces, quickly boil the tips for presentation later if you are into that sort of thing)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3/4 stick butter
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • thyme - leaves from two or three sprigs
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
Here is what two pounds of chopped up asparagus looks like - note the wine cork - you have to have some pinot noir while cooking - good for the brain.

Sweat the onions in the butter for 5 minutes, then cook the asparagus in there for five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add the broth and thyme. I didn't have any fresh tyme laying around so I used dried thyme - you can see it floating in there. Bring this up to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so.
Let cool for a bit, then blend in batches. Don't fill the blender too full or you will have a real mess on your hands. Put the blended batches in a large bowl and set aside.
Return all of the pureed soup from the bowl back to the pot and add the cream, stirring to incorporate.
Heaven - and so simple. I very much recommend that you use fresh thyme, as my dried thyme didn't really blend up too well - once in a while I get a tiny piece of it in a spoonful. Small price to pay.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Baseball is Dying

Last week Gerry and I each went to the Indy 500 with family and friends and had a great time. The event basically takes over the whole city of Indianapolis with ~ 300,000 attendees, plus many more around for the various events that don't attend on Sunday.

I tried to watch the White Sox but they weren't on TV tonight. They were on some sort of Comcast+ channel that the restaurant I was having dinner at didn't have.

Apparently we weren't alone in our relatively low interest. The first place White Sox played the first place Tampa Bay "Rays" (not Devil Rays) tonight and per Yahoo! sports:

"The AL Central leaders won the first-ever game at Tropicana Field between teams in sole possession of first place in their divisions Thursday night, cooling off the AL East-leading Rays 5-1 before of a crowd of 12,636."

How's that for a crowd for two first place teams, on a presumably nice night in Tampa Bay? That is pathetic attendance.

While I can't find the quote on the internet, I remember some sort of quote for Tony LaRussa saying that the St. Louis / Detroit series in 2006 was nothing compared to a NASCAR event.

Maybe baseball needs Danica or something to liven things up...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

At Home In Galena - Masters of Marketing

Click any photo for larger.

Last weekend my wife and I were able to go to Galena, IL alone for a whole day and had an absolute blast. For those not familiar, Galena is a town in northwestern Illinois not far from the Mississippi River. Galena is now famous for resorts and shopping. Main Street on Galena has lots of shops selling all kinds of things.

When we entered At Home in Galena (no website!) I became glassy eyed. They had lots of home decor things, and I usually enter the twilight zone when I enter these types of stores for two main reasons. One, I don't give a damn about home furnishings and two, even if I did, any and all of my choices are subject to immediate veto by other persons who hold sway in my household as relates to these matters.
I came along for the ride, and upstairs I stumbled upon this sign that led to a side room.
Kickass, they actually had a whole mans room!
They even had a mini fridge stocked with beer! And the beer was free, although they had a donation jar for Habitat for Humanity. I dropped a fiver in there and kicked back and watched a bit of the Sox game while my wife spent who knows how much of my hard earned money in the store. At that point I didn't really care, rather came to the realization that this store needed to be rewarded for this BEST MARKETING PLOY EVER. Here is your humble author in Shopping Valhalla.
It seems I was not the only guy who agreed that this was a good plan.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chicago Bridge


This bridge has been in the "up" position for several years now... and here is a link for more information.

Althouse and the Kindle

Click any photo for larger.

I had been emailing Ann Althouse back and forth a few times to get her take on a device I was thinking about buying, the Amazon Kindle. She was kind enough to offer to meet me and discuss it over a scotch so I took her up on it.

There are two main reasons I was interested in this gadget. The first and most important is that when I read in bed, I like to lay down and read and the books get heavy. The other reason I wanted one is for when I take business trips. Again, it is a weight thing. So lets see how it did.

For those who don't know about it, the Kindle is basically an electronic book that enables you to download books, magazines, and newspapers directly from Amazon. Most titles are only $10. If you like pictures, forget it. Also, and this was a big deal for me - if you read a lot of old non fiction (for instance military history) your choices are fairly limited. They are getting more titles available for the Kindle all the time, but as of now you are only going to be able to get the big authors and the megaclassics. As an example, I just bought P. J. O'Rourke's new book, which is available on the Kindle, but this book which I am churning my way through right now, is not.

You use the Kindle to order your titles and they zap right into the machine pretty effortlessly. The Kindle is totally wireless, and uses cell phone signals to work, not the web. Very cool. As a matter of fact while sitting here with Ann we downloaded a sample chapter of the O'Rourke book to her Kindle. It was very quick.

Here is a photo of the Kindle in my big 'ol mitt. Look at the tiny keyboard down below - that was not easy for me to type on. It is made for people who text message a lot apparently. And that ain't me.
And here is Ann, smiling and knowing that this photo will show up on my blog at some point.
Here it is in Ann's hands. Her hands are a bit smaller than mine and she didn't have the same difficulty as I did working the controls.
Oh, and a great shot here of Ann's legendary footwear. My wife approved.
Here is a horrible backlit photo of a random woman who interrupted us to tell us how much she absolutely loved her Kindle. Both Ann and I told her she was nuts.
Here is the short version of my review - the Kindle sucks.

Here is the slightly longer version. The damn screen - oh that damned screen. It isn't stark enough and it isn't backlit. The background is grey and that is the deal breaker. It is too heavy. The problem of the heavy books in bed would not be solved by it. And there is the issue of not being able to download older titles.

All in all, I think it is a very good first shot at something that is a long time coming. But it is expensive ($399). I think that execs who are on planes all the time will use it a lot, if they just want to read their papers and current books. I was told that you can upload documents to it as well but didn't see that in operation.

A very interesting gadget, but not for me, at least not in this form.

A big thank you to Ann for taking time out to show her Kindle to me. Also, it was great meeting her son Chris.

ALSO: Althouse has a post on electronic books today as well here, and some good comments about the Kindle in there.

Indy 500 - Part Four

When we got to the Indy 500 race and walked through the rows and rows of people partying before the game you'd be surprised at how many had pictures and banners of Danica. A lot of people were talking about her before the race. Here is the best shot I could get of her, with the trophy at the lower right, as they did the driver introductions. As we all know she was knocked out of the race when a car pulled right in front of her at the pit stop. She really wasn't in the race as far as challenging the leaders, but that was a crappy way to end it. At the troughs in the men's room somebody said "If Danica wins it, then Hillary is going to win it" which sent up hoots and hollers and laughter throughout.
Milka was the second woman and not as many people were paying attention to her (although Gerry did a nice post on her a few days ago). Don't think that fireproof suit is really showing off her figure. This is by far the closest she got to the trophy that day she was nowhere near it... although she still did 2nd best among the girls.
Sarah Fisher had the worst day of all. Her car wouldn't start at the beginning of the race. You can see her crew working to get the car started with the other cars whizzing by. She got in an accident later (not her fault) and was out of the race.
While we are on this gratuitous topic Kristi got to wave the green flag at the start of the race. Even though the flag platform was right in front of us I couldn't get any photos of Kristi waving the flag because she was so tiny compared to everyone else up there and they completely blocked the shot. Maybe that is why she wore such high heels...



But the high heels didn't help her much on the way down...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Favorite T Shirts Seen At The 2008 Indianapolis 500.

In no particular order here is a small taste of the hundreds of photos I took at the Indianapolis 500 this weekend. It will take a day or two to cull, sort and censor most of the ones suitable for posting on this family style blog. so bear with me.

For now, here are my favorite t shirts seen at the track.


This guy sat behind me. We were instant friends. When I told him the shirt should be black with white lettering he told me, “I’m from Cincinnatti, we wear red”. They hate Cubs fans more than I do. BOO-YAH!

Here’s another red t shirt that really got my attention. My aim was a little off but trust me, it was a cool shirt.


Here’s one for all you Fighting Irish fans. You’ll get it if nobody else does.

Favorite T Shirts Seen At The 2008 Indianapolis 500 Part 2

The big race draws all kinds. You take the good with the bad, sort it out and go with God.

Click on the photo to enlarge and read his brilliant contribution to society. Black shirt. lower left.


This young lady chose to wear her t shirt lower than I would.


Here is the sweet young thing that sat in front of me in turn two. She had a balcony you could do Shakespeare from.



Forgive me Lord. Just this once.

Indy 500 - Part Three

They had a great military parade before the game and the crowd was really fired up. When you are at a place like the Indianapolis 500 you can see where the troops are from and who supports them. This is also the view looking north from our seats.
After the troops drove around the track they formed up in front of the main presentation area.
Here is a view of the DirectTV blimp overhead above the "Pagoda" structure where the rich and powerful sat looking a bit north from our seats.
This is a view looking south with the cars lined up in rows of three prior to the start of the race. You can see the iconic Indy 500 leader pole, as well. The cars were going amazingly fast from my perspective as they banked that turn. It looks so much faster in "real life" from this perspective when compared to TV.

Indy 500 - Part Two

There are many Indy 500 traditions. Since I had never been to the race before, I didn't know much about them. We faced right across from the official grand stand so I was able to get a front row seat in everything. Above is a shot of Florence Henderson singing "God Bless America".
Julianne Hough sung the National Anthem in front of the soldiers gathered for the parade. She did a good job. I'd have to think that the band and soldiers gathered immediately below Julianne had an exciting view of the proceedings.
Jim Nabors came out and sang the Indiana song. I guess he was sick the previous year but he showed up this year.
Then they released the balloons and you can see them rising above the Grandstand, looking north from where we sat. Note - this balloon picture turned out really well if you click on it and see the picture at full size you can really see the details on the individual balloons.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indy 500 - Part One

Went to the Indianapolis 500 today. It was my first time there and I had a great time. Check out the view from our seats (I was sitting separately from Gerry)...



I was amazed at how LOUD the cars were from those seats, about 20 rows up. We had ear protection and needed it.

One thing to note is that you can view these you tube videos as "low quality" or "high quality". I think it defaults to "low quality". After you watch it the option to view it in higher quality comes up and it looks much better.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

It looks like this blog will be fairly inactive this weekend, with Gerry and Carl heading off to Indy and myself hitting the road as well. I leave you for a few days with the hope that you will take just a moment or two to remember the sacrifices that many people made for us in past wars.

Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.



NFL Looks To Improve My Gameday Experience

I have pretty much vowed not to take either of my kids to a Bear game ever (until they are legal adults, anyways) simply because of the atmosphere where my seats are located, and the atmosphere in the tailgate lot. Oh yeah, and the atmosphere anywhere else in or around the entire stadium.

Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of fun, but it just isn't a place for kids. Whenever I see a kid in the South Lot or in the West Stands Upper Deck where I sit, I give sort of the same reaction as when I see a kid in Vegas. Usually the reaction is a shake of the head and me saying to myself "why are those parents doing this to the kids?"

So my close personal friend Roger Goodell, the commish of the NFL has decided to address the concerns of certain fans. I have decided to take apart this silly article that the NFL put up on NFL.com and share some certain realities about professional football games from someone who has BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, bought the (beer soaked) t-shirt.

"We look at the issue of our in-stadium experience as something that's critically important," Goodell said. "We think that the experience can be improved. We are going to be working with our clubs to improve that … making sure that (fans) feel safe, that they're comfortable, and that they can enjoy the game without being interfered with. And I think people have a right to do that. We want them to go home, safely, and when they arrive home, feel good about what they just did that day."

This bit doesn't really say anything, but here are my suggestions to improve Soldier Field anyways. I suppose they apply to many other stadiums as well.
  • Eliminate all ladies restrooms except one on each side of the stadium since there are only six women attending each Bear game. Convert all other ladies restrooms to mens. Install old school troughs so we can get the show on the road instead of seeing all urinals filled and having to piss in the sink. Not that I would ever resort to that.

  • Eliminate Chicago Park District involvement in anything that has to do with Soldier Field. As Carl now famously says to his nephews when he takes them to a game - don't f*ck around in school, or you will end up like that (make gesture pointing to clueless parking attendant).

  • Eliminate all food vending inside Soldier Field and install more taps for beer sales. Nobody in their right mind eats there anyway and lets be real here - people who actually purchase food for consumption inside Soldier Field need to be protected from this at all costs. And lets not beat around the bush anymore, the NFL is NOT going to ban beer sales at anytime in the future.

  • Stop showing the annoying "emergency evacuation plan" on the big screens before the game. It is totally silly and unrealistic. If there were an actual emergency at Soldier Field, everyone in the West Stands upper deck is D E A D. At least most won't feel bad about it as 90% of everyone up there is totally drunk. You can up that to 99% for a night game.

"And there are some new factors coming into it. The secondary ticket market is a new factor and we have to figure out how to handle that. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution."

[Insert hysterical laughter here] Oh, like the secondary markets sponsored by the NFL?

Of course, the topic raises an obvious question: With alcohol being a factor in so many fan-related problems, is the league willing to take the bold step of halting the sale of beer at its stadiums? Does the NFL even dare consider biting the hand of one of its most lucrative sources of sponsorship money? No.

Called that one, I did.

"It's very possible and likely that people can come to a game and enjoy alcoholic beverages or beer and do it very responsibly," Goodell said. "What we don't want is there to become abusive behavior. That includes foul language. That includes disrupting other people who are there to enjoy the game.

It has definitely been a long time since my friend Roger has sat in the stands for a game instead of in section la-te-da way up high. If they actually cracked down on foul language and public drunken activity, half of the west stands would be empty every single game.

Goodell cares so deeply about fans that he took it upon himself to see a game from their perspective for the sole purpose of developing a clearer understanding of what needs to be done to improve the fan experience. Last January, he traded his suit and tie for much more casual attire and attended a playoff game with his 13-year-old niece, just the way any of the thousands of other fans did that day.


"I just went through the gates, went through the whole experience, and it was a terrific experience," Goodell said. "But that varies from stadium to stadium and probably game to game and probably time to time. I sat in two locations -- all the way at the top, at about the 40-yard line, and then I sat in the end zone. They were two different experiences. I was actually quite surprised at how different they were."

Oh god I wish Roger would sit next to me for a game just one time. He would probably vote to toss the Bears out of the league.

Several fans recognized Goodell, but for the most part he was able to watch the game in mostly unassuming fashion. He didn't reveal the stadium, but it is among those that he views as providing a good model for other teams to follow. Goodell says there are other clubs that get it right, but he did not make them public.

Chuckle. Everyone just needs to know that the Bear games are fun, but you need to know what to expect - drunken, swearing fans, public urination, etc. etc. My record for "beer soaks" or the drunken person behind me soaking me with beer is three in one game. I was mad at first, but just laughed after the third time. I think that was a friend of the turtle if memory serves.

By the way, you should check out Drunk Bear Fans if you haven't already for some highlights of our Bear seasons past - or are they lowlights?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wheels on Willy

Last Sunday I attended my first bike race, Wheels on Willy. The Cronometro boys blocked off Williamson Street and a few others, creating a square approximately a mile or two long. The crowd was relatively sparse, and a lot of people were coming and going. I stayed for about an hour. I was interested in how these races were run, and what types of equipment the riders were using. These races were forty minute sprints around the track. There were riders from several states and teams represented. I have to admit it was sort of boring. They had a car that would lead the pack of riders, then the riders would blaze by, and then nothing for a few minutes until they appeared again. I guess I don't know what I was expecting. So here it is, from the first corner - just after the lead car went by.

video

And repeat. That is about it. I don't think I will go to a race again unless I am in it.

Not Likely


Near my building there is a billboard for Grant Thornton, a mid-size accounting firm (it is a large firm but small compared to the US titans consisting of KPMG, PWC, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte - formerly the "Big Eight").

The funniest line is "People Who Love What They Do"... as someone intimately familiar with the accounting industry this is literally the last way I'd describe accountants. Accounting firms are famous as sweatshops with horrendous annual turnover. Exact statistics are hard to find but based on my discussions with my colleagues still in Public Accounting turnover is probably over 20% a year. By the time a new staff member makes partner (if they ever do), only a tiny fraction of the original "class" remains with the company.

You might use a lot of lines for accountants - dedicated, detail oriented, or even smart.

But not "love"...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Greatest Spectacle In Racing. 2008 Edition.


If you live in Indiana and have never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Memorial Day at least once in your life you should be severely punished. Judge Gerry sentences you to five years of hard time living in Illinois, Crook County to be specific.

You will be cleaning Todd Stroger’s toilets and responding to 911 calls from the Englewood neighborhood armed with one small container of pepper spray.


The Indianapolis 500 may not be the Super Bowl. Then again, there is no football stadium on the planet that seats 257,325 people in the grandstands and another 100,000 in the infield. All totaled that’s 357,325 people who attend the world’s largest single day sporting event, not counting an occasional O’Bamma campaign rally.

It’s the biggest party I have ever been to.

Yours truly will be there again this year. I attend with my brother, his brother-in-law and about a dozen of their friends. It becomes a non-stop three-day tailgate party. It’s like being in Las Vegas. What happens in Indy stays in Indy.

The bro has connections. One person he is very close to works for a major sponsor of one of the racing teams. It’s as close to going first-class as you can get. Paddock passes and hospitality credentials are included too.

We won’t be in a skybox. I have been in it for time trials but I like our seats much better. They are in turn two, about halfway up and we can see the cars entering turn one, the short chute and flying down the back straight into turn three. Oh yeah, it’s loud too. Earplugs are a must.


The Indy 500 has always been a source of pride to me. In past years when I could not attend I would drag a television into the garage on race day to watch while I detailed the car or Jeep and whatever motorcycle I happened to have at the time. It’s an Indiana thing.

Motorsports is something many don’t understand. It’s almost like soccer or ice hockey. But once you “get it” you’re hooked.

I like NASCAR, watch it, and understand the popularity. But it is not a lot different than standing on the side of the Dan Ryan expressway at 35th st. just before rush hour.

Open wheel racing is true racing to me. Drivers pilot traditional race cars designed especially for racing, not something that looks like the family sedan. In stock car racing they bump each other. A lot. “Boogety-boogety, four-wide!” as Daryl Waltrip likes to say. In open wheel racing if wheels touch it could mean serious injury, dismemberment and potential death. It makes for a lot more finesse, and respect.

Speaking of respect. There have been some interesting open wheel racing developments in recent years. The kind of things that shift my stick and increase my downforce too.


While Danica Patrick gets a lot of attention and…COUGH…exposure in the media there is another driver that gets my respect these days.

I have been officially anointed to High Priest in the Milka Duno House of Worship.

Do yourself a favor...click on the photo for an enlargement. Yumm.


This is Milka (gawd, I love that name) Duno, Indy Car driver. Milka qualified in the field for the second consecutive time. I would love to get into her firesuit. Whoo-boy! It doesn’t get much hotter in the cockpit than that. Milka can take the pole position but I won’t mind if she finishes in the rear.

So I will be heading down to Indy for the weekend. I will have my camera and laptop. IF I see something interesting I may post it to LITGM on location.

Happy Memorial Day to you all in advance.

P.S. It was announced yesterday that Indianapolis will be host to the 2012 Super Bowl. I will definitely be there even if I cannot score tickets. Should be another great Indianapolis party.

P.S. II, How ‘bout those AL Central first place White Sox?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Music Industry


A while back I was watching a television show that I enjoy called "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain when he traveled to Crete and Greece when I saw something completely astounding on television - an advertisement for the band "The Mars Volta" and their new disc, a CD that I actually went out and purchased (still don't understand it yet).

Why was this astounding... because despite being a semi-avid disc buyer for decades the advertisements that I have seen were usually useless and not directed at me; but for once the record business actually targeted a show I'd watch with an ad that I would have responded to. So for a brief glimmer, an instant, I could see what some of these thousands of non-musicians that make up the music industry do and how it could add value.

ABOUT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Over the last several years the major record labels have been undergoing constant layoffs, restructuring, and mergers in an attempt to re-invent themselves in the digital age. There are four "major labels" today which control about 80% of the industry, with independent labels covering the rest.

In this article, EMI announced recent plans to lay off 2000 staff members, approximately 1/3 of their work force. The EMI layoffs are on top of other job losses over the last few years detailed here, along with another doom-and-gloom summary of declining CD sales and closing record stores.

When I read the interviews about how the industry is contracting and CD sales are falling, the first thing I think is "so what?" The music industry is eerily similar to the newspaper and publishing industry, where career employees tangential to the mission bemoan their fates.

In the simplest model, there are three parties to the music industry:

1) the artist
2) the record company
3) the listener / fan / consumer

Note how 2) is in the middle between the artist and the fan... in the way, so to speak. The artist wants to create music (and make a living, and meet girls) and the fan wants to hear new music that they like. The record company brings everyone together, and for a long time they had a clear role to play.

In the days of record albums and pre-internet media, it took some decent logistical capacities to design, record, and distribute records all around the country. Media outlets were expensive and advertising required some level of sophistication and funding, and radio was independent and required grooming.

After records they innovated and moved on to the cassette which was more portable (for the car, the boom box, and the walkman) and everyone bought the same stuff all over again. When the disc came out, at a prodigious price (almost $20 in 1980 dollars which probably would be about $40 today) everyone bought them again, to hear high quality music in a format that was supposed to last forever.

At about that time, the industry stopped innovating and making things easier for the fans. Even though CD costs plummeted, the record labels resisted reducing the costs; essentially pressing a CD and distributing one is nearly free, but prices didn't fall hardly at all. Remember the core concept in economics that marginal revenue = marginal cost... as the cost (of incremental units) moves towards zero, the revenues should expect to move in the same direction.

On a parallel front, music information became ubiquitous. When I talk to my nieces and nephews, they get all their music information (and most of the songs) from the internet, through blogs and myspace. The value of the record company is completely invisible to them; distribution is free, information is everywhere, and songs are free while CD's (if you can find them) are an expensive pain in the rear.

A third front was the advance of DIY capabilities; anyone can create their own music with digital tools that are cheap and readily available. A friend of mine from high school was an engineer and worked on many big-name acts; he left the business because most of the work (except for the main producer and engineer) is moving to Pro-tools and away from human intervention.

To some extent it is amazing that the industry has lasted as long as it has; for most fans it is basically an impediment.

THE MODEL UNDER SIEGE

A few more critical holes have emerged in the music industry model. The Eagles released their new album only at Wal-Mart... and it became a big success. In this model the whole returns / shipping problem is resolved because Wal-Mart obviously can successfully stock this CD and ensure wide distribution. According to this link the album has sold over 4.6M copies using this model, without any record company help at all.

Meanwhile, Radiohead put their new album online and let customers "name their own price" which could be as low as zero. This one really had the record companies scratching their heads... but for Radiohead the cost of distribution is very low so even if customers only pay a fraction of what they would at the CD store they are still coming out ahead. The Economist wrote an article speculating that Radiohead realizes that music is a "free good" and they are competing with peer-to-peer versions, so fans will salve their conscience by paying what they believe the album is worth.

I recently bought "The Slip" which is the new Nine Inch Nails album. This album came out for free, like Radiohead, except that there wasn't even a "name your price" option... the only price was zero. I liked the album a lot and have been listening to it a lot on my iPod Shuffle when I work out. At the site (www.nin.com) they have the album available in many formats, including high quality MP3 files as well as formats I don't even understand... but they are much larger in size which implies that their quality must be very good.

In the past 1/2 the band Gnarls Barkley (the DJ, Danger Mouse, not the strange looking singer) made his name by releasing "The Grey Album" where he took the lyrics from Jay-Z's "Black Album" and combining it with the music from the Beatles "White Album". This CD was released out on the Internet for free, scooping up lots of free press and rave reviews.

Not coincidentally, these bands are all headliners (or top draws) at Lollapalooza here in Chicago in August. They are obviously doing well playing live and the fact that they are releasing their music for free online isn't seriously impacting their ability to make a living in music. They are clearly making the choice to get their albums out to fans cheaply (or free) and then to make money playing live and selling merchandise, which is difficult to bootleg.

Also - bands like Ghostland Observatory are being started "from scratch" without label support. They have appeared on Conan O'Brien and other shows and produced and sold their own CD's. They also have only 2 band members (which is far cheaper than a big entourage) and travel lightly which gives them a lower point to break even on touring.

INCENTIVES

Beyond the fact that you'd expect revenues to move towards marginal cost over time (i.e. zero) for incremental copies of individual music tracks, there are other negative incentives at work.

Dan, my blog-mate, indicated his surprise at the fact that the new REM album was recognizable and good, as opposed to the somnolent stuff that they'd been producing the last few years. Why is this? Why did R.E.M. suddenly change their style?

R.E.M. signed a giant deal in the 90's (after the success of many albums, including Monster) and then proceeded to create navel-gazing records devoid of hits. The albums sold fewer and fewer copies each time, but R.E.M. didn't care, because their (huge) revenues were guaranteed in the 5 album deal. R.E.M. blamed bad music trends and online file sharing but clearly they also contributed to their anemic sales by abandoning their immediately recognizable style that earned them fans in the first place. Stipe found lots of time for random liberal causes, and these didn't do anything for sales.

Once the big deal was done, however, R.E.M. had to actually "earn" their living by creating music people wanted to buy. Hence, their new album actually has songs that someone might want to buy. You can't afford to jet-set around for your favorite causes unless some big capitalist enterprise is paying the bills, after all.

The music industry is fighting back by signing "all inclusive" deals with bands such as this one (they will get traffic, unlike R.E.M. so I am not naming them) where the label supports the band but then gets a share of CD sales, online revenues (ring tones), concert revenues, and merchandise. This model gives both the band and the label similar incentives, which are to get out there and earn money. The likely problem with this model is 1) you need to start them early, so it takes years until they make money 2) it is likely more expensive than just signing up front for nascent acts 3) established bands won't "switch over" to this model unless you pay them an enormous amount of money.

THE FUTURE

Given that the costs of creating music have plummeted, it is logical that the revenues from music will also decline. A new generation of fans has been created that doesn't expect to pay for music... and this will be impossible for the industry to reverse.

On the other hand, concerts and merchandise still have a lot of appeal, and these are difficult to bootleg (the people likeliest to view the concert are also likely to attend). Thus musicians will start moving into these areas in order to make their living, and whatever they make from iTunes or CD sales is more or less gravy.

The label doesn't have a lot to add in this model. They can help produce the record and provide marketing support. But what is this worth? A lot of bands can promote themselves on the Internet, and music venues in cities across the country are hungry for bands to fill their schedule, and they can help with promotion, as well.

Like newspapers, they need to re-invent themselves to add value. Unlike newspapers, who can claim to a "public interest" in researching stories, the labels don't necessarily have any redeeming social values. They are middlemen, and they need to make money for their investors. They will need to pare back their services to what makes money, and add value to their relations with artists. This likely will result in a far smaller number of people at the major labels unless they can find a way to recover the vast riches that they lost when CD sales began falling.

Cross Posted at Chicago Boyz

Hell Freezes Over

Say it ain't so, but Pat Forde (of drop dead Pat Forde fame) has finally written a column that is pretty darned good. I was (deservedly) harsh on Mr. Forde last year, but his last pixel dump on ESPN gains a well earned pat on the back from me. I only have one problem. The column is about the BCS.

There is nothing we can do about it. All of the columns, hand wringing, letter writing, and other actions by fans will do nothing to fix it. We have already tried that, and what did we get? Several more years of the BCS, and proclamations by the muckety-mucks of the bowls and the NCAA that the BCS is the best thing since the ball point pen.

I have pretty much given up bitching, griping and complaining about it, and am just ready to accept it since there isn't anything anyone can do about it, short of insane football fans from slighted SEC teams getting their politicians to make something happen to the BCS.

Next fall I will be watching weeks 11, 12, and 13 again in college football with the same old reaction. I can't believe that the BCS is a mess and that team X's fans are screwed, just like team Y's fans were last year. I am simply shocked, shocked that this could happen.

Funnier yet, I can see the NCAA and their bowl buddies saying to themselves "I can't imagine anything that could end the season better than the BCS games - does anyone have any idea how this thing could end up better so we don't get wheelbarrows full of hate mail for Christmas?"

Cross posted at SFU.

Coconut Loaf Cake

Click any photo for larger.

Some people like coconut, some people don't. But everyone will love this cake, you gotta trust me. It is hard to believe, but the addition of coriander - yes, coriander - makes this cake have unbelievable flavor and complexity. From the book:

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened, finely grated dried coconut (it is important for the coconut to be ground very finely, like ground nuts - I found some organic stuff that was already ground to the perfect consistency. If you use a food processor, don't grind it too finely or you will end up with paste)
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon double acting baking powder
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered milk
  • 3/4 cup whole milk at room temperature

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350. Sift the flour, baking powder and coriander together and set aside.

Butter a loaf pan, and sprinkle with coconut - you can see how fine it is.
Beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugar until you have a pale, thick mixture (about 2 minutes). Beat in the eggs one by one, only mixing until each egg is incorporated. Put your mixer on low and one by one add the coconut, powdered milk and whole milk, again only mixing until incorporated. By hand, use a rubber spatula and fold in the flour mixture in two or three additions.

The book says that the batter will be smooth and thick. Mine was thick, but not necessarily smooth. Dump it into the pan, and bake for 70-80 minutes (I went 75).
30 minutes into baking, put a foil tent on the cake. Remove the cake and put on a cooling rack. Brush with rum syrup (1/4 cup simple syrup, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white rum).
And the results - perfect.
Believe it or not, this cake was more dense and moist than some of the others I have made. I am not sure why. The taste was truly amazing. I could hardly taste the coconut, just a blast of all kinds of complex yummy things. My wife said she could get a hint of the coconut, and that it was perfect. They coriander really took this thing to another level. It was an amazing cake and one I will certainly make again.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Full Moon


There is a Rolling Rock campaign called "Moonvertising" which is advertising on a billboard near our house. It has been pretty much a bust so far.

But the "real" moon looked great over a building under construction in River North last night.

Annual Tilt A Whirl Fun

Well, it was that time of year again last Sunday (Fitchburg Days), and I was excited to add yet another great post to the Tilt A Whirl category over on the sidebar. Until I looked at the serial number on the machine - it was the same exact one featured in this post. Oh well, can't win 'em all.
I did get this shot of the underside - the business end of the machine. You can see that it very well may be the original motor in there.
I was mercifully spared actually having to ride the Tilt A Whirl this year, but did ride some other interesting things. Nausiating video to come in a day or two.