Dec 29, 2006

Google eyes expansion -- but why not in NY?

The word floating aroung the tech world (of which Nano Burgh is just a small part of) is that the two Carolinas, North and South, are in a bit of a bidding war over the priviledge of hosting a new Google server farm. While NC is used to playing in this economic incentives poker game, this is a rare initiative for SC to undertake.

The Tar Heel State (thats NC, for those of you that don't follow sports) has reportedly offered a $4.7million grant to make this happen. Getting out the calculator, and comparing that figure to the estimated 240 jobs that would be created, I get a result of approximatley $20K per job. Not a bad return, if it sells.

Just for comparison's sake, put that fig alongside New York State' Luther Forest /AMD chip fab incentive package of over $1million per job.

Why isn't NY finding the will to win -- or even comnpeter for ---- this type of 21st century, new economy project? The answer is simple: the state's economic development and political communities' infatuation with the mantra of creating "high paying manufacturing jobs" is preventing it from doing so.

An argument can be made -- including by this observer -- that a Google facility has a greater economic impact on a host community than does a chip fab plant. I'd be happy to debate that contention with anyone inclined to do so, in either a public or a private setting. Take your pick--name your dueling ground.

Imagine this: what if the state had used the $1.2billion Luther Forest investment to fund /create a "free bandwidth zone" at the Harriman Campus and at the RPI Tech Park? I''m talking the biggest, baddest and fastest pipes possible here that could support the infrastructure needs of companies like Google or Amazon or eBay. Afterall, bandwidth costs are the #2 operating expenses (after talent) for these types of new economy firms.

Take that cost off their income statements, and the Capital Region would be hard pressed to accomodate all the companies that would want to move here. Now wouldn't that be a refreshing change?

So, when do undertake the requisite paradigm shift in regional economic development policy and start thinking in these terms ?

Dec 18, 2006

Exemplary customer service?

There's one of those privately - owned post offices near me. Yes, private citizens can bid on a franchise to operate their own little station, usually in suburban or rural areas that are not served by the normal taxpayer- owned variety.

Anyway, here's what has me going on my local service provider: their hours of operation. Get this..

8AM to Noon
1PM to 4PM

That's right; forget about swinging by during your lunch hour or after work.

I thought the private sector was suppposed to have a better feel for serving the public and on efficient operations? I guess that's not necessarily the case.

Dec 9, 2006

Meet The Legend, and vote now

Have you ever caught this character on Time Warner's public access channel late at night?

He's The Legend, aka Rayford Faulkner, the self professed "ONLY legend" in the area. His show "The Unreal Variety Show" is his vehicle for proving just that. The format: putting a plastic shopping bag on his head and spewing forth a dialog that mainly consists of: a) why he is such a legend, and b) what individuals he is currently having some sort of hassle with. He'll even bequeath his very own Bob Dylan guitar and harmonica imitation on viewers now and then -- make sure your dog's not in the room or else the kids will soon be awoken by its howling.

Last night's epsisode (?) showed The Legend getting into a problem with a guy named Richard, the owner or manager of a coffee shop that was not too keen on granting The Legend entry into his establishment. The remaining twenty minutes of the show were nothing more than a lecture on how The Legend would crush him in retaliation for this dastardly deed. I hope Richard has a good set of dead bolts on his doors. Not to mention an unlisted number.

So, today's poll:

The Legend: Mad Man.....or..... Mad Genius?

Send in your vote!

Dec 7, 2006

This commuter rail plan is DOA

The commuter rail demonstration project (read: experiment) between Saratoga Springs and Albany that was announced yesterday is a predicted example of a good idea about to be wasted because of poor execution.

The idea of instituting a light rail system providing service into downtown Albany from the northern population-growth centers has been around for a decade. It makes sense, and one needs to look no futher than nearby Boston or New York City to see proof of the contributions that such an infrastructure investment contributes to regional economic growth - - not to mention the environmental benefits. We need it to follow these examples, and we need to do so ASAP.

But what these and other succesful metro rail systems all have in commmon is two fairly obvious characteristics:

1) They tend to get people to the general neighborhood of their work or play destinations in a fairly 'straight-line' fashion, without unreasonable detours to out-of-the way stops along the way.


2) Once the get to that neighborhood, the riders are usually within walking distance of the door of the building to which they are ulimately destined.

It seems that these two realities always get overlooked when the local rail initiative moves from a big picture discusssion the the actual drawing of a route map on a piece of paper. This week's announced plan falls into that scenario -- as have all the prior plans that have arisen in the past few years of this discussion.

The proposed route of this project once again makes the mistake of beginning its journey by heading southwest from Saratoga Springs instead of heading southeast, moving towards Schenectady (with a new stop in Ballston Spa) before it makes a left hand turn in the Electric City and heads towards a final stop at the Amtrak/CDTA center in Rensselaer. Here lies the problem.

The proposed route can not possibly be successful --if success if to be measured by significant ridership --- because it ignores both of the best-practice arguments made above. My rebuttal:

Point 1

Schenectady is, and should hereafter be considered, as an 'out of the way' stop for the purpose of developing this rail plan. The good people there will certainly take me to task for pointing this out, but the stark demographic reality is that Schenectady is no longer a top tier component of the Capital Region.

Whereas the former brand given to the area was the 'Albany - Schenectady - Troy Tri-City metro region, the municipal centers of influence have changed in the past two decades. In fact, we hear the Tri City phrase used rarely anymore, now replaced by the term Capital Region. Our regional psyche and focus have moved northward, with Schenectady unfortunatley dropping off the map, so to speak. This is not to disparage the revitalization efforts underway there. But if one insisted on retaining the Tri City brand, the convincing argument would be to redefine such as being composed of Albany - Troy - Saratoga.

A proper and meaningful commuter rail plan should reflect this new regional order. Simply put, few Saratoga residents have a need to be deposited in downtown Schenectady, and the valuable extra time it takes to route the train in that direction will not be well received by the ultimate judges of this experiment: the ticket - buying commuters that are trying to get to Troy or Albany.

Hence, the straight - line requirement is being violated.

Point 2

If we are all starting with the given assumption that the primary goal here is to get people in and out of downtown Albany -- with a possible (and worthwhile) secondary goal of doing the same in and out of Troy -- the question turns to whether or not that need is being delivered by the current plan. The answer here is a resounding no.

Neither downtown Albany nor downtown Troy has a stop under this new proposal. Its drop off , of course, is the mega center hub in Rensselaer. Needing to then catch a CDTA bus to head back across (or up) the river further lenghtens the journey and adds another hassle element to the experience.

In other words, the within walking distance to one's so-called daytime door requirement has also not been met.

The result of this experiment, if it even gets off the ground, will be poor ridership figures. That will be a shame, because such results will forever be used by the light rail naysayers when future projects are proposed -- even the good ones that in practice actually DO connect the three municipal components of the Capital Region and deliver the required passenger delivery service.

Making that happen is filled with significant hurdles -- I certainly realize the infrastructure shortcomings and freight service priorities that are inherent with the preferred route. But good old fashioned political leadership could make it happen.

Here's another point to consider: the former (and beautiful) Union Station on Broadway is sitting there, with limited utilization under its new corporate, out-of-own ownership. It still has train tracks running alongside its back door. Do you see where I am going here?

After all, this place was built in this specific spot for one simple reason: it was a convenient stop for people coming in and out of Albany.

Quite the concept, isn't it?

Dec 1, 2006

A not-so-Hot 10

I guess the recent shift to a being a new- age, digtial news delivery service disqualifies anyone of us here at the Tech Valley Times from being considered as "members of the region’s media outlets" any longer. To wit...

The Albany - Colonie Chamber of Commerce yesterday released its annual Tech Valley's Hot 10 list for 2006. Here's some of the spin from their press release:

The Tech Valley initiative garnered a great deal of national and international recognition in 2006. In the process, the region has proven that it is home to some of the most outstanding and talented individuals in the world.

With a long list of outstanding innovators, it is not easy to compile a list of the most influential. To help in this difficult task, the Chamber turned to members of the region’s media outlets for assistance.
Guess what? For the first time in the four years of this thing, we weren't asked for our input.
That's too bad--I've taken a good deal of pride in the names we have nominated in the past and was always pleased to see many of them make the final cut. Especially gratifying was hearing someone say "I never heard of this one person before, but he/she is certainly doing some good stuff," knowing they were referring to one of our choices.
I guess this means that the Chamber defines 'regional media' as just the local branches of the old school corporate mega chains; print and broadcast. You know, the ones that aren't actually owned by anyone IN the region.
And I think it shows, given this year's Hot 10 - - which included just three individuals from commercial, private sector companies. Plus, I believe that nine out of the ten are repeaters from prior years.
Wasn't there anyone else doing any work around here for the past twelve months other than these usual suspects????

My first "Best of 2006" lists

With the end of the calendar year being at hand, it's time to start cranking out The Best of 2006 lists, isn't it? You bet it is.

I'll tee up a few over the next couple of weeks. Let's start with a not so serious topic --- my best live music experiences of the year. Yeah, I know -- I'm getting too old to be checking out rock and roll bands. But we're all entitled to a guilty pleasure or two, and this is mine. Besides, getting out of the house now and then is a better lifestyle choice than the stay-at-home alcoholic phase most of my contemporaries have slid into!

So, here we go with my Best Live Shows of 2006:

Medski, Martin & Wood (Montreal Jazz Fest): Sure, some of their stuff goes so far out there that I wanted to jump off the balcony, but when they hit the right groove it runs chills up my spine. The interplay between heavy jazz keyboards with a jam-band style rythm section does the trick.

David Gogo (Montreal Jazz Fest): All jazz fests book acts that have nothing to do with jazz -- just look at SPAC's version each year. The MJF is no different, actually devoting a whole stage to the blues genre. Native Canuck David Gogo and his band slashed and burned their way through a long scorching set, thus proving why this guy was the '03 Guitarist of the Year up there north of the border. We'll work on getting him down here in '07 to let you Albany folks see what I'm talking about.

Jim Weider's Project Percolator (The Cutting Room, NYC): Our good friend Mr Weider has played for us locally on two separate occasions, but it was good to be able to actually sit there and catch his whole set without the constant distractions one has when producing his or her own show. This is a small room in lower Manahttan with great sound, and it did the trick. Weider's new "picking up where Jeff Beck left off" guitar-based instrumental progressive-fusion rock is a rare treat in this day and age. His willingness to make such a radical style change from his Americana roots from his stint with The Band is more than admirable--it's the mark of a creative artist. Tony Levin once again played bass along with regulars Randy Ciarlante and Jesse Gress, with Sid McGinnes (from Dave Letterman's band) even stopping in to join the fun on a couple of tunes. Good stuff.

Donna the Buffalo (Peer Impact Tech Valley Music Series @ Washington Ave Armory, Albany): Yea, I know---I'm a little biased on this one, considering that it was our own show. But will anyone that attended be willing to argue the point that this was a great gig? I think not. Jeb, Tara and friends clicked through with their usual mix of rock, reggae, folk, zyedoco, country, and probably a few other styles that I don't even know about yet. The bottom line is that this musical stew they've put together works. Happy feet indeed. Locals The Kamikaze Hearts and Raisinhead added to the festivities. We'll hook you up again with all three in '07.

The Fixx (Revolution Hall, Troy): The Fixx? You gotta be kidding me! That's exactly what I said, too, when a buddy of mine dragged me out on a Thursday night to celebrate the fact that he had just been put on a work schedule that gives him Fridays off. But I'm glad he did. These 80's near-icons are still out there on the nightclub grinder curcuit, somehow completely intact with the orginal members and all of them looking good and seemingly content. And gee whiz, can they still play -- with a suprising passion and freshness. This show was more than just three version each of Stand or Fall and One Thing Leads to Another -- these guys aren't just mailing in the nostaligia ticket the way most of them out there do. Catch them next time they come through town--you'll be pleasantly surprised.

John Hiatt & The North Mississippi All Stars (Alive at Five, Albany): I commented on this show in a prior post, so I won't repeat it here. Botom line: Amercican roots music at its very best.

Umphreys McGee (Higher Ground, Burlington Vt): This was simply a case of looking to get a handle on "what the young 'uns are listening to these days." For a good many of Jam Band Nation, it's apparently Umphreys McGee. A good show, complete with the requisite noodle & doodle sessions but also with a few off the wall surprise guests hooking in here and there, inlcuding the Vermont Youth Orchestra quartet. Some of it worked, some of it didn't--but that's what's so good about the jam band scene: you just never know what you're getting on any given nght.

Gov't Mule (House of Blues, Myrtle Beach) : Just an uncomplicated evening of (very) loud southern fried rock & roll in the middle of a (very) large mob of (very) drunken beach tourists. Reminded me of simpler times ....

Stefon Harris (The Egg, Albany): Vibe man Harris returned to his hometown for an evening of straight ahead jazz that both soothed and elctrified. How come we don't brag more about this native son of Albany?

Jim Lauderdale (Valentines, Albany): What's this honky tonk roots cowboy doing in this normally hard rock venue? I don't know, but it worked.

That's it. Bear in mind, I really dont get out to see a lot of shows, so I surely missed about 200 or so good ones locally, I am confident.

Other than that: here's who I'm listening to these days: My Morning Jacket and Porcupine Tree. Let's look on brining them both in as well.

Stay tuned for more serious "Best of" lists.

Nov 9, 2006

Albany Rants: post-election political predicitons

Guest Submission
(Originally published on Albany Rants)

Well, it was pretty good stuff, wasn't it?

The Republicans got the butt kicking they deserved. Spitzer is in and we just need to count the days down to get Pataki on a train to Iowa. Everyone's favorite thug was given his walking papers in the 20th congressional district.

I would say that my favorite result nationally was that fascist cretin Ricky Boy Santorum going down in flames in Pennsylvania. But the question here in A-town is: can any real government reform and progressive legislative action be accomplished with Bruno and Silver still hanging around? What's it take to move this pair out of the picture? How about the state offering them each a severance package, of say, $1billion to leave?

Think about that proposition, why don't you. Wouldn't that be a better investment for New York's future than a chip fab or a convention center or road repairs or anything else?

Now that these election are over, it's time to look ahead. So here are my political predictions for the next year or two here in the Capital District:

- Jack's Oyster House offers up a new dish called Lame Duck. State Republicans are offended and announce a boycott

- Joe Bruno's grandaughter (the one that went missing until found walking the streets of NYC under the control of some alleged pimp) emerges from hiding and is given a judgeship in Rensselaer County.

- Patricia DeAngelis and I become an item

- Patricia and I have a child and he is crowned as the new Sun King

- Jerry Jennings announces he is running for Governor -- as a Republican- Brian Stratton announces he is running for Mayor -- of Albany

- Kirsten Gillibrand appoints Mike McNulty as her Chief of Staff

- Bill Clinton starts hanging around Mrs Gillibrand's office a bit too much, thereby giving her the creeps

- The NYS Republican Party, in a move reflecting its status, announces that it will be operating out of a PO Box at the local MailBox USA franchise in Scotia.

- After George Pataki is quickly dismissed from presidential consideration by primary contests, he is seen in downtown Albany asking pedestrians "does anyone know where the NYS Republican party has moved to ?"

- John Sweeney lands some political lame duck appointment. He celebrates by crashing some keggers at RPI.

- An anonymous tipster phones the Times Union, saying she heard a rumor that John Sweeney never actually graduated from college. The reporter decides not to follow up, concluding that there really isn't any difference between having a degree from Russell Sage College and not having one.

- Sweeney's wife, flush with the high of her success in taking a piece of the policital contributions of her hubby's camapaign, becomes the new chief fundraiser for United Way. Two months later, the organization goes broke.

- Sweeney's son, the convicted felon, announces he is entering politics. When told by an advisor that there are voting restrictions on convicted felons, he punches him

- With the Republican party hacks all losing their jobs, that gay "rent a room by the hour for massages" health club in Troy shuts down, citing a loss in business.

- Alan Hevesi is removed from office, but he refuse to actually LEAVE his office. He sits at his desk with his arms folded and won't budge, forcing a SWAT hostage crisis team to be deployed to his downtown Albany building.

- Shelly Silver moves the entire NYS Assembly to lower Manhattan

- Not to be outdone, Joe Bruno moves the NYS Senate to Troy

- Five-hundred lobbyists walk away from the leases on their Albany offices to follow them. Economic prosperity follows as the offices are soon filled with real businesses doing productive work.

Nov 5, 2006

What's a friend worth?

Working on the weekend brought an unexpected chuckle....

Yesterday, I was asked to glimpse through the financials of a small local company. Their balance sheet listed 'MySpace Friends' as an asset category, with a value of $1497. Footnotes explained this as representing the worth of the 1497 people that answered "Yes" to accepting the incoming friends requests from these folks --- or $1 per pal.

Pretty funny, isn't it? While I give these youngeters credit for realizing the potential and value of one's social network, I think I'll be advising all involved that this valuation might be a bit on the high side.

Nov 1, 2006

Former associate makes the national news

Hey! I know that guy!

I'm always heartened to see one of my former employees making a name for themselves. It makes me think that I might have been a postive role model in his or her's life , giving that little extra push to go on to do glorious deeds for the greater good. It can bring moist tears to my eyes. Yeah, right.

But I wasn't quite sure how to react to today's airing on CNN of one Michael Stark getting manhandled by a group of Senator George Allen's campaign thugs down in Virginia. All for asking the good pubic servant "if he had ever spit on his wife." Now what's that all about, Michael?

Stark, who once served as a web developer / programmer for me in the e-Comm Square complex on Broadway here in downtown Albany, went on to attain a certain degree of notoriety soon after as the one and only Mike From Albany. His gig: incessantly calling into radio and television talk shows to take on what he called the wingnuts of the right wing. He then chronciles the fun in his blog Calling All Wingnuts. Mike even got himself a front page cover story in Metroland and on a first name basis with Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. It's funny; I never recall having any sort of political discussion with him when we worked and socialized together--but something obviously set him off.

When I last spoke with Mr Stark, he told me of his need for a major career shift and of his decsion to enter law school at the University of Virginia. That's why he's showing up for verbal ambushes on Mr. Allen, I assume. Allen just happens to have the unfortuanate luck of being the closest wingnut to our hometown hero.

Take a look at the video of this ugliness here.

*** Late breaking news...

Apparently, this stunt may have provided that "career change" mentioned above: various sources are reporting that Mike has been hired by the producers of an Air America talk show program.

This news gets me to thinking. What is more amazing: that Mike Stark has become the the new Stuttering John (from Howard Stern's show), or that Stuttering John took over Ed McMahon's old job on the Tonight Show?

Repeat: "That just ain't good enough!"

Last Tuesday's edition of The Training Group's CEO Luncheon at Saratoga National, of which the Tech Valley Times was a proud sponsor, had as its subject matter the tricks to better managing one's sales team. Featured speaker Dave Kurlan came to town to give his thoughts on the subject, backed up by a distinguished career in the field and a couple of books to boot.

Like all such seminars, the 60+ attendees didn't walk way in possession of everthing he or she needs to know in mastering the art of sales management. But we all did leave with additional tools for our toolboxes which we can grab now and then and put to good use.

Here's one reflection that Mr. Kurlan made that I enjoyed, and am hereby sharing:

If our CPA reported to us that she can account for 94% of the cash in our business, how would we react? Likewise, if our Quality Control Manager told us that we are now at a 95% defect - free manufacturing rate, what would we say? The answer, of course: we'd be none too pleased with either.

So why, then, are we so forgiving when one of our salespeople celebrates attaining just 75%, or 85%, or 90% of sales quota?

Good question. Kurlan points to complacency as a large part of the problem here; not just on the salesperson's part, but also on the sales manager's. Good point. Take it with you.

A sign of the season: I saw just one single golfer on the ride up and down the long driveway leading in and out of Saratoga National.

Oct 31, 2006

Can the private sector fly solo around here?

Another day, another press conference announcing a taxpayer subsidy for some project nicely trumpeted under the "economic development" umbrella to make it all warm and fuzzy.

Yesterday's edition was to joyfully proclaim that $5million in public funds was going to the Wellington Hotel /State Street re-development initiative in downtown Albany. You know, the one that only a couple weeks ago was being recognized as a great example of the private sector getting involved in downtown Albany's revitalization?

Without getting into the dirty laundry of this particular deal (i.e., the private developer's campaign contribution connections to the two guys making the speeches), I'd like to offer this suggestion:

Let's make the next "economic development" press conference one where something is getting done WITHOUT public subsidies involved.

Now THAT will be something to celebrate.

Oct 27, 2006

I was born at night, but not last night

Here's a good one--this just happend:

The phone rings here in Action Central. It's a mid-level member of an industry support & development group within our coverage region of eastern New York. They're good folks and we've always gotten along well with them.

This person, whom I've never met, has some great news for me: they wish to pay homage to the Tech Valley Times for its excellence, its contributions to the business community, for its blah - blah - blah. Such homage will come in the way of being named a finalist for some awards ceremony they're putting together in the months ahead. Sounds great, doesn't it?

But there's a catch. Unfortunately, we are not an official memmber of this particular group; as in a dues paying member. Apparently, this just won't work. The solution, naturally, is to rectify that shortcoming so we can proceed with our being an honored component of the upcoming festivities.

There's a similar trick used by some unwashed members of our industry: "we'll run a story on you if you feed us some advertising." Maybe this group should track down one of them.

The impending death of MySpace

Last night's entertaining baseball game between the Gateway Redbirds and the Motown Bengals was taken by the former, giving skipper LaRussa and his lads a formidable 3-1 edge in this year's renewal of the Fall Classic. Sure, we don't have the Bombers / BoSox / Amazin's involved, but the Series is always worth at least a peek by fans of this glorious sport.

What has me writing today is not the contest itself, however. Instead, it was a signoff promo that concluded the Fox Network’s post game recap that drew my attention. Yes, I was still awake; were you?

Announcer Joe Buck gave notice that viewers could now turn their attention to the internet, proceed to the Fox MySpace page and catch the latest episodes of various shows that they might have missed or were so entranced with that they just HAVE to watch it all over again. One could even catch the season premier of The OC on the portal before it is shown on the traditional media network. He even gave the backslash-Fox command to ease the navigation challenge.

Fox is a part of the giant News Corp. News Corp, as you may or may not know, is the new owner of…MySpace. A gazillion dollars is all it took for that to happen, but they’ve got it. So what we witnessed last night is simply an execution of what we in the media world refer to as a feedback loop: pushing people back and forth between your various brands and properties.

But what this highlights is the old media / new media disconnect. In this case, News Corp hears all the buzz about MySpace, assumes that there must be “something to this thing they call social networking” and writes the big fact check to get into the party. News Corp -- and Fox-- are now part of the in crowd!

So what do these nouveau hipsters do with their newfound glory? They play the part of Oklahoma grain salesmen at a supermodel party in SoHo, that’s what they do. In other words, they don’t quite fit into the scene.

MySpace, for the twelve of you out there that don’t yet know, is a spot on the net where one tosses out some basic biographical hooks about his or her self (likes / dislikes) into the waters and see who it reels in. The goal, of course, is to make one-on-one connections, hence the term social networking.

It caught on with Generation Z or ZZ or whatever demographic designation we’re up to now, for logical reasons. In this era of kids being forced to travel in packs and engage in group activities --- whether it be Girl Scouts or soccer teams or band practice or summer camp--- MySpace provided an outlet for the expression of individuality. Yes, it’s a sad commentary on the current state of the American experience, but what other avenues do they have?

Big Media, as shown by Fox last night, doesn’t get it. After paying the bucks for MySpace, the archetype of social, one-on-one networking, what does it do? It employs its old school broadcast model within it. Shove those slick, big budget, wide – audience television shows onto the servers, create a page, and let it rip to as many eyeballs as possible. Pushed, of course, by means of massive old school marketing campaigns that they don’t need to pay for because they own the channels and newspapers they’ll run on!

Why do these people think the kids ran away from that great big screen down in the living room and into their bedroom’s net-connected PC in the first place? It was to reel in that new mate, pen pal, concert buddy or hookup partner, that’s why – not to watch OC's episodes.

News Corp/Fox, as well as the rest of the Old Media dinosaurs, continue to struggle with getting a real handle on what the net is all about. They just don’t get it and are in for some pain and suffering in the years ahead as they fail to adapt to this new dawn.

I can already see the headlines playing out in the years ahead, as each one throws its hands into the air as their financial losses amount from this getting hip experiment. Of course, they'll blame everyone else for their failings.

Meanwhile, theyll ruin MySpace as it becomes totally irrelevent to its original wave of supporters. I'd start betting on some of the next round of social networking sites, the ones that haven't yet positioned themselves to be bought out -- and then sunk into nothingness -- by Old Media money and visons.

Oct 23, 2006

Who d'ya like in the election?

Sticking one's nose into politics is a good way to stir the pot. It must be that we had such an urge to go grab some kitchen utensils and do just that, as seen by our official Tech Valley Times election endorsements, over on the main portal. As usual, opening our big mouths is sure to raise some controversy. Our reply: good.

Don't be bashful -- tell us what you think.

Oct 21, 2006

Joe Bruno's pretzel logic

I must have been given the wrong address yesterday. Or maybe it was the right place at the wrong time? Whatever the problem, it sure seemed like the wrong press conference.

The invitation said "come on down" to the College of Saint Rose and hear all about a new geology classroom. That sounded good; I'd been meaning to catch up with the good folks down there in Albany and this presented the perfect excuse to stop by.

But what I got was some guy going ballistic up on the podium talking about ... pretzels!.

That guy was none other than our own Uncle Joe, the good Senator Bruno, spewing forth fearful threats about what a disaster it will be to the Capital Region if --heaven forbid-- the Democrats take over his chamber in the upcoming elections. He mentioned something about waking up that morning and immediately hearing some comment that got him all worked up. Those in the audience wished he had reacted by hitting the snooze button and going back to bed instead of taking it out on them.

The fear (or threat), of course, is that the Albany area will no longer enjoy the windfall of state money that Uncle Joe has been able to throw its way for various economic development, community service and infrastructure projects since he took over as majority leader eleven years ago. My notes quote him as saying:

"I was there 18 years watching the dollars flow to New York City and to Long Island. And what did we get here? Pretzels! I sat there in a corner and bided my time."

He also went on to defend the so called "three men in a room" process of governance in New York that is the subject of so much finger pointing by observers as being the core cause of the state being labeled as the most dysfunctional government in the country. You know: the land of late budgets, ineffective and out of date legislation, out of control spending (backdoor and otherwise) and unfunded mandates that are driving up local property taxes. But as long as the pork flows in the right direction (ie., to the home districts), we are expected to support the gate keepers of this funny farm.

And so goes what we can call the Voter's Paradox (or schizophrenia): "Sure, government spending is a runaway train that must be brought under control, but I expect my local legislator's primary role to be bringing that pork spending back home right here to me and the young 'uns!"

Pretzel logic! Any major dude will tell you that, my friend. So Rikki don't lose that number.

As long as that thinking rules, nothing will change. Joe's throne is likely safe.

Oct 19, 2006

AMD: don't panic yet

The rumor mill is abuzz with talk of the AMD @ Luther Forest deal possibly being in trouble. In fact, various outlets (including the Times Union and Tech Valley Times) are reporting off-the-record comments from officials within the various entities involved in the negotiations that all have an "AMD is asking for more" flavor to them.

It's not time to panic on this thing --- not yet, at least. Rather, this debris is what one should expect from such a sloppy, not quite completed deal that was rushed to the press conference stage for the benefit of various parties for reasons that needn't be analyzed in this forum today. But let's just relate that the word "premature" has come up a few times in conversations we've had with people working in that big stone building on top of State Street in recent days when discussing the status of this project.

But the good news is that AMD CEO Hector Ruiz is talking up the plant in a recent interview with Financial Times, as we reported yesterday on our main portal. After all, Mr. Ruiz was up there on that podium at Albany Nanotech with all the familiar local faces when those cameras were rolling. So he, too, has some credibility to protect here as well. Hopefully, they're just arguing over such issues as who sweeps the roads?

But consider this scenario: AMD ups the ante by demanding substantial additional incentives and the deal is still not closed by New Year's day. Wouldn't this present an interesting dilemma for the new Governor? You get the impression from his reaction comments that Eliot Spitzer thinks the deal as originally framed was about as far as the state should go and he would therefore be disinclined to throw more taxpayer money at the California company.

But if he says nyet, the Republicans will claim that he blew the deal that they had tee'd up.

Wouldn't that be the nuts? Let's hope we don't get there. Because as I said in an earlier post: no matter where you stood on this chip fab project beforehand -- even those of us that consider it as being mostly irrelevent to the Tech Valley initiative -- its falling apart now doesn't do anyone any good.

Oct 13, 2006

News Alert: race track is important!

My easiest grad school course was one called Economic Research Methods. It was so easy, I'm not sure I even bothered buying the text books for it -- a holdover trick from my undergrad days.

Surprisingly, though, I actually got something out of it. In this case, it was the retained knowledge of two key facts in regard to social science research:

1) You can pretty much make any poll or survey conclude anything you want it to conclude.

2) Economic impact studies are useless.

The second one comes to light this morning upon reading of a study concluding that the thoroughbred race track at Saratoga has a $213,700,000 impact on the Capital Region economy each year. Impressive, is it not? I wonder if they're counting my $300 annual contribution?

Having actually been involved in the preparation of these types of reports in a former life (yes, I shamefully admit such), I possess first hand knowledge of the various formulas, math models, input-output tables, multiplier effects and on and on and on that are utilized for coming up with a magic $$$ number that is placed front and center in the Executive Summary of these things. (Trust me: the Executive Summary is all that gets read by the recipients. ) And I can report that this process is not so much a science as one normnally defines the word science.

The fact is, unless you somehow had the magic ability to trace the path of each and every dollar bill involved (did someone say RFID chips?), one is taking a shot in the twlight with any attempt to put a hard figure on the concept of 'economic impact'. You'd be better off trying to put a dollar value on the concept of love.

But, for some reason the Saratoga County IDA felt a need to come up with such a figure, and for that privilege the county taxpayers are out $60,000. Does it really make a difference in the County's future policymaking if the number had been $100million, or $500million or $3billion? They would have been equally served by being told that the economic impact of the race track "is really BIG!" For that report, I would have only charged them $25.

My advice the next time you are presented a news piece of an economic impact analysis of a shopping plaza, community center, office tower or chip fab: turn the page to the next story.

Now, I just hope this doesn't get me tossed out of The Club --- or forces me to return the sheepskin....

Oct 9, 2006

Cliton Park as a model town

Here's a good one:

The New York State Association of Realtors has awarded its second annual smart growth and development award to....

Clifton Park.

No, that is not a misprint. I said Clifton Park, the land of chain restaurants and hotels, where nary a local business can be found among the hundreds of storefront retailers. The town of sub developments bordering sub developments, where each dreary house is indistinguishable from the next and whose central phychological focal point is a thiry-year old shopping mall. Do they still hold the high school prom in that mall? I could go on for hours.

Are these people that far out of touch with the most basic issues of modern day living? Do they even give a hoot? Or are they simply caught up riding the gravy train that feeds their bank accounts, figuring they just need to work a few more years and then retire to some island far, far away?

Oct 1, 2006

Hitting the mail bag

Let's use this blog to answer some TVT reader (aka Fan Club) mail that I've been neglecting for awhile....

1) To TR in Albany: I think the line that LBJ used was something like "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination..." Let's go with that one for the position in question that you somehow think I would be qualified for and / or interested in. I am neither.

2) To TR in Albany (again): Gone on account of health issues. By the way, don't you have anything better to do than to write me?

3) To Irene in Albany: The development of the new website was an experience, to say the least. Your asking about it has given me the idea of making a feature story out of that process. I think we shall! Thanks for the brain shock -- I owe you a coffee at that place downstairs from your office.

4) To Peter in Latham: Yes, we're behind schedule in our "TVT 2.0" makeover. See the preceding question for some insight. There are other reasons, but this is not the forum. But, we're getting there and we will be a pretty neat little company when we're all done.

4) To Bill from Troy: We use Host Rocket for our web hosting. Highly recommended.

5) To LB from Down Yonder: We're looking for a gathering spot where we can convene our meetings every one to two months. An announcement about what we're up to should be forthcoming in a month or so.

6) To Lady C from Schenectady: Yeah, we know, the site needs a creative touch. The plan was, and is, to get the funcional aspects of it going first and then swoop back to make it look pretty. We remain on that track.

7) To Walt: No; they're out. We'll bring that function back in-house.

8) To TR in Albany (one more time): No, that kooky guy is not associated with us -- an ally, but not anyone here. Like you, though, I do enjoy reading him! It sure looks like you DON'T have anything better to do, doesn't it?

There, I hope that was productive.

Sep 29, 2006

Election season: hold your nose

The dreadful world of New York state politics never ceases to amaze and disgust, especially come election season. This year is no different.

First, we have Attorney General candidate Jeanine Pirro admitting that she is under federal investigation for possible wiretap crimes. It seems that she suspected her ex-con husband of philandering and wanted to catch him in the act. Ms. Pirro denies she went ahead and actually did the eavesdropping, mind you. But she DID think about it. But who did she call to pursue this train of thought? None other than disgraced former NYC Police Commissioner (and ex-con) Bernie Kerik, that's who! After all, it makes sense to call Mr Kerik -- he knows the ropes of carrying on these types of relationships, by his own admission. This tale has a ways to go before it plays out, I'm sure.

The we have incumbent NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who just got caught taking a page from the Governor Pataki playbook and went about having his wife chauffered around by an individual on the state payroll. The Gov, you might recall, pulled the same prank awhile back.

Mr Hevesi did a public mea cupla yesterday in Lake George, saying he wrote a check to reimburse the state for his embarassing transgression. Questions abound about his math for determining this tab, however.

Isn't it funny how the mob that wanted Pataki's head for this abuse is suddenly quiet with the Hevesi problem -- and vice versa, of course.

And we can not let Congressman John Sweeney off the hook. Mr Sweeney is currently running television campaign commericals accusing his opponent of war profiteering. The logic? The opponent's spouse apparently owns stock in BAE Systems, a defense contractor. Get it? Defense contractors are profiting from the Iraq war, dummy! Hence all shareholders are therefore war profiteers! Now do you understand?

What Mr Sweeney forgot to mention is that BAE is a contributor to his re-election campaign. Yes, that pesky little detail didn't quite make it into the final cut.

Our favorite new blogger (and longtime TVT supporter) Albany Daze woke us up to this one -- not a big TV watcher, after all. If you need a good laugh, take a trip to his Albany Rants blog for some good chuckles -- and an interesting picture of the Congressman in action!

I can think of one small group that is thankful for all this lunacy: the writing staff of comedy troupe O.I.N.K.(Only in New York). Something tells me they won't be pulling hairs trying to come up with bits for their new season. It's all being handed to them on a silver platter.

Sep 21, 2006

Schenectady or Stalingrad?

So was the question posed by my friend 'The Llama" down at NYS Environmental today. This in response to his reading of the workings of the Schenectady Police Department as they went about reigning terror on a city family.

Armed and outfitted as if they were raiding a Taliban cave, a small army of Schenectady's finest barged through the door of a Prospect Street residence, handcuffed two children (ages: 11 and 12) and started blasting bullets at their pet dog, eventually chasing it into the bathroom where it was successfully killed.

Despite some debate over whether they even had the right address or not, the police brass are high-fiving one another on this exercise. The Times Union quotes Assistant Chief Michael Seber as saying "We had the absolute right house. We had the absolute right target."

And what's this "target thing" all about, you ask? Apparently, the PD has reason to believe that the family's teenage son had recently sold $40 worth of pot. Yeah, this was a real drug factory here, wasn't it?

I just made a decision: the TVT has officially ended its discussions with the City of Schenectady about that music festival it was looking to bring into town.

After all, knowing what we know about our crowd's recreational habits, we'd end up with a few dozen of them taking bullets. For their sake, we'll pass on Schenectady. I recommend the same to others.

Housing starts down; let's celebrate

Let's calm down about the latest data showing that housing starts are way down from a year ago. Everyone seems to think this will have a ripple effect into a doomsday - scenario recession. Widepread panic reigns.

Might I offer a contrarian view? This is actually good news.

The so-called housing industry has long been supported by government policies --- taxation, immigration, highway, energy, economic development -- that, if they were to be similarly extended to other sectors, would cause a huge "that's not fair" outcry. We often hear libertarians and some conservatives decry this type of "choosing economic winners," but never when such an argument is applied to housing. After all, the vested interests that are lined up within it are the most powerful in the land.

I would suggest that in this era of a global economic reality, to tie up this nation's private sector investment capital in a game of swapping real estate back and forth does not stregthen our international competitive hand.

The same view holds on a micro level. The day a bright, creative 27yo professional signs the dotted line mortgaging his future on a $500,000 home immediately makes him or her unlikely to ever take the plunge on starting a new entrepreneurial venture. His or her capital is tied up for thirty years, the timeframe which parallels the period in which new firms are, in fact, started. You think they're launched the day after the mortgage - burning party? Uh-uh.

Public policy, as applied to the housing industry, is out of synch with today's economic order. Letting the air of of this bubble will do us some real good. Sure, it will be rocky for some that bought at the top, but nothing is (or should be) guaranteed in market economics.

If I were king: I'd phase out the mortgage deduction over a 40-year period.

Now, what are the chances that this type of idea would ever make it into the public debate? Don't hold your breath.

Sep 19, 2006

Vanilla America, part 58

Today comes news of the closing of the the Steel Pier down in Atlantic City. In recent weeks, we've seen announcements of the pending departures of The Pavilion in Myrtle Beach and our own nearby Catskill Game Farm. Goodbye to these links to the past, of childhood memories and simpler times.

What will take their place? Need we ask? For the two southern parcels, look forward to retirement condos and themed outdoor walking malls with pleasant names like Broadway at the Beach or Barefoot Landing--- or to grown men wearing mouse ears at groundbreaking ceremonies.

For Catskill, who knows...

Some alarm bells on AMD

This week's series of feature stories on Advanced Micro Devices in the Times Union has raised some eyebrows.

Although the pieces are not particularly enlightening -- just more examples of trying to draw parallels between Albany and Austin --- it's the Luther Forest references that draw one's attention.

Characterizing the incentive agreement whereby AMD builds a fab locally as "nonbinding" and explaining "when, and ultimately if, the Luther Forest chip fab is built depends on a number of factors," one gets the impressionn that maybe this deal wasn't really as close to being of the "done" variety as we were being told. I'm not sure if this was the reporter's intention or not, but he has succeeded in ringing some alarm bells in the Capital Region.

If this deal were to fall apart and the Luther Forest plant never materializes, it will be interesting to watch the scurrying and finger pointing taking place on this one.

But let's hope it never gets to that point: whether you were a supporter or an opponent of this project, such a scenario would not do anyone any good around here.

NOTE: We will be publishing an in-depth "economic effect" analysis on the AMD project in the next few weeks.

Sep 18, 2006

Mr. Rooney calls home

Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes last night:

"In Albany, New York, the airport is called the Albany International Airport. I think it has two flights a week to Canada. I grew up in Albany. Maybe I'll offer them $1.50 to rename it the Andrew A. Rooney Not Far Afield."

I doubt that Mr. Rooney will be keynoting any local Chamber of Commerce luncheons in the near future.

Sep 8, 2006

Was that Yesterday? Five Years On

Last Summer
(Words by Sean Kelly)

There's trouble on the wing
I just can't see the floor
I don't know where to start
or what they're fighting for

We just can't fall apart
please turn this all around
I think he's got a gun
I never said goodbye

A free chance for a villain
maybe heroes or a soldier
in all my life as I would stand
United to a flag and clenching with my hands

It's really getting strange
I heard the pilots scream
we're never going down
at least that's what it seems

I'm frozen to my seat
I lost my sense of time
neglect from God above
who walks the crooked line

But still we fly it's so streamlined
flying angels to the sun
those wars are never won
I love you on this morning
where the strangest strangers curse
as the buildings tumble down

A free chance for a villain
maybe heroes or a soldier
in all my life as I would stand
United to a flag and clenching with my hands

But still we fly it's so streamlined
flying angels to the sun
those wars are never won
I love you on this morning
where the strangest strangers curse
as the buildings tumble down

When in fifty years
may just one forget
was that yesterday
or just last summer

Sep 7, 2006

Just the Facts, Please

I know that Ronald Reagan admonished his fellow Republicans from saying uncomplimentary things about one another. I'm not sure if there is a similar rule for members of the journalistic professions. Come to think of it, there can't be: just tune in Fox News some night.

I guess that allows me the opportunity to chide my friends over at the Capital District Business Review for a story they have on the front page of their current edition. It is there that we can read the disappointing news of the closure of web development firm Virtual Flow.

Sure, a fairly high profile company going out of business can be considered story-worthy; whether that makes it front page worthy, I'm not so sure. But my bone is of a different flavor:

Why is the story highlighting -- complete with a photo -- the FORMER owner of this business? She outright sold the company to one of her employees over a year and a half ago, tossed him the keys to the front door and went on to a new challenge of raising a family. Why did the reporter feel obligated to track her down with phone calls as a means of getting her into the mix of this tale?

Granted, I'm personally close to those involved here, but I don't think this effort of striving for effect does anyone justice.

Sep 5, 2006

Yes Men Strike Again

The Yes Men, those media hoaxmeisters determined to fight corporate greed through Identity Correction -- which is a nice way of saying impersonation -- are at it again.

Recently, the YM (one of whom is a sometime RPI teacher) were out spawning "false hopes among blacks" in New Orleans by pretending to be a spokeperson for HUD at a speech. Read it / see it here:

False announcement in full:
Video of false announcement:

Framing the Debate --- Playing Into Their Hands

I consider myself to be an active booster and supporter of this region's creative arts scene, believing that disciplines such as music, dance, painting and so on should all be considered a vital part of the so-called Innovation Economy mix. The art (and business) of video & film production is definitely a part of all this.

On a totally unrelated front, I am as disgusted by the hijinks of George W. Bush and his Axis of Evil (Cheney, Rumsfeld & Rice) as any other forward- thinking individual would be (or, for those rare cases: should be). After all, could anyone else have screwed up this nation's foreign policy any worse from 9/12/01 onward than this band of lunatics? Not likely.

Given these two perspctives, one might think that I would be overjoyed to witness the current buzz being directed to the three young Leatherstocking Region producers of Loose Change, a documentary that takes a "hey, this part here ain't quite right" examination of various 9/11 events. If something isn't properly and completely explained to the satisfaction of the trio, then might such a lack of proper explanation suggest such themes as coverup or conspiracy?

The problem with this type a product is that it plays right into the right wing's hands. No one has better mastered the political P/R and media manipulation game than the national GOP and its various think tank and strategic consulting partners. A product such as Loose Change is a free gift to them, one which provides a very convenient BRANDING OPPORTUNITY for framing the opposition as "left wing wackos" and then handing it off to their cohorts in the mainstream media for delivery to the masses.

In other words, those that question the administration's international crusade can now be framed as "crazy conspiracy theorists," with these Loose Change kids' names being tossed around in the same sentence as Professor Churchill and Cindy Sheehan by the Bill O'Reillys and Sean Hannitys of the airwaves. Grab the image of someone that you know will generate an unfavorable reaction, put that image up their on the screen and say "here's what the Democrats and the left are all about."

As good as these young men's intentions might be, they're playing right into the hands of the Masters of Manipulation.

Aug 29, 2006

The High Cost of Being Public

Reading the MapInfo SEC filing of a recommendation by one of its major investors for the company to start putting some serious effort into seeking a buyer is rather illuminating.

This particular individual hints at the high cost of regulatory compliance by public firms in the current post-Enron environment, and what a large cost burden, percentage - wise, such an effort is for a small cap stock such as local darling MapInfo.

It always cost a boatload of money to go public; now it takes another boatload to STAY public.

Given this reality, the gentleman goes on to suggest that such a cost would be better absorbed within the financials of an industry giant such as Oracle or IBM, among others -- all of whom would make legitimate suitors.

With such a roadblock being put up in front of successful middle-stage companies looking to get to a new level of financing, the idea of "going public" does not have the appeal it traditionally has enjoyed, especially in the high tech world. At least not via US markets, as evidenced by the sudden emergence of former bit players such as the London and Toronto exchanges in serving these opportunities.

More about this later; on the portal ...

Aug 28, 2006

The Search for What Matters Most

The back room of Guinan’s Store is what a college kid would call a local dive -- a nondescript beer & gin joint short on the fancy decor but long on a tradition of acting as the gathering spot for an extended network of neighborhood characters that, for good or bad, have come to rely on the place as the anchor of their individual social frameworks. In other words, it’s the kind of place that a visitor getting off a train at the Garrison station stop a few steps away might not give a second thought to entering, lest he or she would be walking into a closed circle tribe of longtime regulars that would cast unwelcoming and suspicious glances at any outsider that dared enter through the door.

Wendy Bounds, a Wall Street Journal columnist who was still in the semi-nomadic throes of being chased out of her downtown apartment by bin Laden in the autumn of 2001, nonetheless took that “let’s stop in for just a beer” challenge and ventured into Guinan’s. Ten days later, she found herself moving into this quiet Hudson Valley community located fifty miles north of Manhattan and becoming a regular patron of the bar. She obviously found something completely different from that predicted unwelcoming closed circle.

Ms Bounds, who we met as a panelist at the recent David N Deutsch & Company Saratoga Weekend, chronicles her love affair with this small building and the people within it in a superb book called Little Chapel On the River, now available in paperback. Click the graphic image (below) and proceed to buy this title, then join her in exploring the parallel themes of family, community and friendship, of a sense of place and of the daily struggles of keeping a small business afloat. Finally, exalt as the author “finds her way home” from the 9/11 chaos.

Quite an accomplishment for a small little dive bar next to the train tracks, isn’t it?

When you’re done reading this book, ponder the role that places like Guinan’s play in the quality of life and community fabric equations of a city, town or village. Then realize that these places are rapidly disappearing, being eaten alive by the new masters of the Economy of Scale mantra that are taking their place but failing to fulfill their most valuable contributions to the social network. Sorry, but Applebee’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood” slogan doesn’t quite do it for me. Was it good for you?

Then think about how tax and business policies and the standard economic development programs and incentives ---- which always claim to have as their end goal “an improved quality of life” --- are structured. Then think about who gets, and who doesn't get, the benefits of these tidings. Then draw your conclusion.

Aug 17, 2006

Albany grad hits it big in chip business

Quiz Time...

Question: From the universe of every UAlbany graduate in history, can you name the individual that will personally rake in the biggest bucks for calendar year 2006?

Is it some nanotech researcher? A best selling author? A Wall Street gunslinger? Yours truly? Wrong; especially the last one.

This honor will undoubtedly go to one Jamie Gold, the principal of the JMG talent management and TV production group in scenic Malibu, California. Although he apparently makes a good living in the Hollywood circles, the bulk of Mr Gold's super fat paycheck for the year comes from a rather interesting diversion: poker!

Gold is the recent winner of the World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'Em championship. After coughing up a $10,000 entry fee, this Great Dane honors grad walked away with an astonishing $12Million grand prize -- and a shiny gold bracelet to boot.

To think, we once ran a story on UAlbany kids wasting away their lives --- and tuition money --- playing in online tournaments for hours (and sometimes days) at a time. Maybe we need to publish a correction? Or an apology?

One might now conclude that the promised career opportunities in the chip business for our local students ARE for real. We just assumed they were talking about computer chips all this time; not poker chips!

Late Breaking News: It is being reported that a portion of Mr Gold's winnings have been ordered held, as a supposed financial backer is claiming one-half of the kitty. Maybe our hometown hero was daydreaming during that Business 101 lecture on "make sure you get it in writing?"

Aug 9, 2006

Lean Workshop, Leaner Wallets

A grand old time was enjoyed by all at Friday's annual XONITEK Sytems Day at the Races. After a morning workshop on the "LEAN" school of productivity & efficiency improvements (a XONITEK specialty), the group of two dozen or so was treated to an afternoon of food and drink at the Spa's upper Turf Terrace restaurant by company leader Joe Paris.

As seen in the photo, the ladies in attendance used the occasion to fill the tills at the track's hat shop.

Ms Donna O'Leary (far left in the photo with XONITEK's Victoria Marsh and Lauren Entwistle), was seen scouting the grounds for a lucky spot in anticipation of her Alliance of Technology & Women's upcoming fundraiser slated for the track's At The Rail pavilion on Friday, August 25. A handful off tickets are still available at

Aug 1, 2006

The birth of a catch phrase

I get a kick out of instances where lowbrow pop-culture references make their way into the conservative world of corporate America. I witnessed just such a case yesterday in Manhattan, where I was invited to make a presentation to a group of media industry-types on an idea I've been kicking around, and which they might be interested in being a part of.

After I was done with my dog and pony, the operating officer of this company shared his feelings on where various resources should be deployed within his operation in order to meet those all important financial objectives that had been set by his board at the beginning of the fiscal year. His means of verbally framing his argument was noteworthy:

"Phil needs more cowbell if he is going to have any chance of wrapping up his project in the next three weeks--we have to give him more people," he implored his associates.

I chuckled at the "more cowbell" reference. The others at the table didn't---either they had seen this guy's act before or the phrase has flown over their heads. Given that this particular group of people made their living by keeping themselves attuned to the latest buzz of youth culture, my guess is that they all got it.

A short history of this phrase: In the mid-70's, the Long Island based rock band Blue Oyster Cult hit it big with a smash tune called Don't Fear the Reaper. The royalties alone on this song have likely kept these guys living comfortably ever since. The tune would have been nothing more than a Gretest Hits entry on those late night infomercials if not for a second life it gained with the help of a wacky TV segment.

Saturday Night Live did a sketch, featuring guest host Christoher Walken. In a BEHIND THE MUSIC parody, Walken played the part of a famous producer insisting that "More Cowbell" is the key to making Dont Fear the Reaper a smash. Although hesitant at first, the band eventually gave in and the rest is history. Will Ferrel played the part of fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle. (Watch it here)

The phrase immediately became an inside joke among those that had viewed the show. But slowly, it gained favor among the wider tragically hip, spawning a cottage industry of tee shirts, bumper stickers, tatoos, and similar products. It also made its way into the everyday lexicon, into the stage play Spamalot and, apparently, into corporate business meetings.

More Cowbell, then, has become a means of asking someone to add certain resources to an effort to make it more attractive, useful or profitable. Just like Mr Walken was arguing for the addition of louder dunk-dunk-dunk to the studio session, these two words might be used to argue for more color being added to a painting, for more effort being devoted to a practice session or, as seen in the case of my NYC friends, for more money and manpower being allocated to a software project. Or a million other creative uses for this valuable addition to the English language.

I'd heard it used before: my neighbor shouted it out it as a way of instructing me to rev his car's engine harder as he was under the hood troubleshooting a carburator problem. You too can find a way to work it into your everyday life! I've noticed somebody sneaking it into our website's FORUM and randomly adding it to various topics. Hey dude, if you're reading this: ring us up and tell us how you got started--and why.

For a jump start education on how to master this phrase, head over to the Empire State Plaza tomorrow (Wednesday) night. It just so happens that the Oyster Boys are in town playing a free show there, in front of the State Museum steps.

I'll lay 10 to 1 odds that you'll hear "More Cowbell" being yelled out a minimum of 50 times. Anyone interested in taking me up on this wager?

Jul 26, 2006

Bar zone gets elbow room

A stretch of Pearl Street is now being closed off on weekends so as to ease some of the sidewalk congestion in Albany's booze-crawl neighborhood.

I guess that's a good thing. Two things that struck me about this news:

1) how it looks like the weekend is defined as including Thursday night in this town; and

2) how adamant the mayor is about this not meaning one can carry drinks out into the street as part of this experiment. Jerry was very vocal in how "the open container laws will be strictly enforced."

No word on whether the open-puking and open-urinating laws will be similarly enforced.

Jul 25, 2006

International dispute settled by local businessman

A funny incoming story from our friend Judge George Janis that is perfectly timed for tomorrow's opening of the Saratoga horse racing season...

The Judge, now the senior managing director of a business intermediary firm Cromwell,Morgan and of the Cromor Stable of Saratoga Springs, recently made a trip to Belmont Park for a day with the ponies. Being the high roller that he is, The Judge hangs out with the upper crust crowd during his days at the track. That means the upper clubhouse, VIP style, for this guy.

His guest on this day was his old friend Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, who happens to be the former President and Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago and who knew The Judge from George's days as a UN liaison for the New York State Bar Association. Janis asked the NYRA folks to let his friend present the winning trophy for the day's feature race, the important Bowling Green Stakes on the turf. NYRA agreed.

The accompanying photo proves the claim, as we see His Excellency (second from the right) presenting the fancy tin to the connections of the winning thoroughbred Go Deputy. Mr Janis, in all his glory, is seen at the far right.

The 'funny' part of the story occurred immediately after the shutter clicked. His Excellency was under the impression that the hardware was being presented TO him, and not BY him. He proceeded to return to his box seat with the trophy under his arm while the horse's owner, trainer and jockey all reacted with dumbfounded shock.

Judge Janis spearheaded the high level diplomatic negotiations, the hardware was returned to its rightful recipients and an international incident was avoided.

The Judge will be accepting congratulatory cocktails at Siro's tomorrow night after the last race -- find him at the outside bar, on the Lincoln Avenue side of the grounds.

Somebody loan him a dime

This story's a bit late, but worth telling for the humor...

It appears that Jeff Immelt, head honcho of General Electric and a popular figure among the Tech Valley crowd because of his commitment to the local Global Research campus, has a cash flow problem. Or at least a math problem.

Apparently, the I-Man bounced a $2000 check to the Weld for Governor campaign.

We've placed a call to Jim Cramer asking whether this is a 'buy' or a 'sell' signal on GE stock.

Jul 24, 2006

Rock & roll, Alive at Five and regional image

The Alive at Five summertime shows down in the Corning Preserve are a fixture in the local entertainment scene. Sitting by the river on a warm night, listening to live music makes for a great after-work Thursday excuse to ring up the old college pals and hook up for some fun.

The bookings, however, have been rather spotty over the years. Do we really need to waste a show on former football star Doug Flutie and his buddies playing cover tunes? Other times, it seems like a welfare program for long forgotten nostalgia acts. But about once each year, that sort of criticism is forgotten as a world class show is tee'd up to the delight of the masses -- and for yours truly.

This year's highlight was last week's performance by John Hiatt. While flying a bit under the radar of the average radio listener, Hiatt nonetheless enjoys near iconic status among tuned-in fans of roots-rock. His twenty plus years of turning out catchy tune of everyday life in the heartland and delivering them in his "I''ve got something caught in my throat" manner have made him the apparent successor to The Band as the epitome of the best in Americana twang.

As if having Hiatt on stage wasn't enough of a treat, Thursday's show saw him backed by the North Mississippi All Stars, whose brand of bluesy swap rock psychedelia has been embraced by Jam Band Nation and the music festival circuit. This pairing made the night especially fun.

After treating the large (6000+) crowd to a set of their own material, the All Stars took a short break and reappeared in the role of sidemen to their big rock star friend. From the opening wail of "Perfecty Good Guitar" through such Hiatt standards "Cry Tough," "Riding with the King", "Slow Turning" and "Drive South," this pickup band delivered the goods --- and how!

Guitarist Luther Dickinson, who looks like that mop-headed 15-year old who mows your lawn, led the way with a sonic attack that was as impressive with its diversity as it was with its ferocity. His blistering leads were matched by range of fills that cut in and out of Hiatt's famous hooks and bridges that made one forget they were basicaly watching a power trio fronted by a guy strumming an acoustic guitar. This was rock and roll at its finest, and the crowd loved it.

This is the type of quality-of-life event that make the region a decent place to be a part of. It's fun for residents and it stamps the city as being kewl to the outside world. For example, sitting next to me were two women that were in town a day early for the NOW Convention. One of them mentioned "how neat it is to have something like this going on in the middle of town."

So goes my annual trek to Alive at Five. I just wish that I had reasons to go to a few more each year. But if that one visit keeps serving up the likes of Mr. Hiatt & the NMAS, I'll be happy. Heck, I'll even stop complaining about Flutie and the nostalgia acts.

But then again: maybe not.

Jul 17, 2006

Ernie's gone nano

Remember Ernie Tetrault--the fatherly figure who used to sit next to Liz on the Channel 6 News for all those years? Have you been wondering what ever happend to him since his rumored forced retirement several years back?

Well, it looks like Ole Ern is on the Nanotech Train! Well, sort of.

An ad in today's newspaper has Mr T. hawking hearing aids for a local company. The spin of the product: these are "Nano Tech" hearing aids!

Apparently, they're really small. So, like a 101 others in the region thinking they need to jump on the this choo-choo, that's close enough to put the nano label on it.

Besides, if Ernie says it's nano, it must be true! Right?

The Long Tail stalks

Three of us were sitting in Red Square the other night, when the talk turned to the Long Tail, which is the suddenly fashionable topic amongst the new-media and music industry crowds today.

Before we had a chance to dive too deeply into the topic de jour, one of those “he’s ahead of his time” flashbacks kicked in. My buddy George pointed to the bottle sitting in front of me and said “look at you, talking about Long Tail while you’re drinking a Long Trail.” I guess you had to be there.

Long Tail, for the uninitiated, is a pop economic quasi-model that can best be explained by looking at the accompanying graphic. This represents a day’s activity at our lets-pretend music download business. We have broken a random day’s activity (i.e., file downloads) down by individual artists. The larger bars represent the sales by the most popular and well know performers of the day. 234 downloads were bought from just one single artist. In fact, a handful of artists seemingly dominate the day’s action.

On the opposite end of the chart are the artists whose music was only downloaded once during the same day. The one-timers continue off the chart until they register a final count of 910. This final group -- the 910 -- is what’s referred to as the Long Tail. You see it: the graph’s long tail stretching out? Now you know.

Traditionally, those artists are written off by the giant record labels and their industry co-conspirators as not being worth anything. After all, why would the labels spend hundreds of thousands producing, promoting and marketing a band that was only going to sell one title per day, if that? The retail stores didn’t want any part of them for the same basic reason ---why take up valuable shelf space with inventory that won’t sell?

What’s important here is that so-called ‘Net Economics’ has changed the way these artists are looked at. Once our make believe company’s infrastructure (server, software, bandwidth) is put into place, it costs next to nothing to add additional inventory (i.e., artists and their music files)---maybe a penny or two. All of sudden, the 99 cents x 1 = 99 cents revenue stream for Joe Blow and the Blowhards looks like it is contributing a pretty healthy margin to our sales -- and with no ongoing carrying costs. Why not add them and give them a chance in the open market?

The real world echoes our fantasy chart: sales figs from the download services reflect the same pattern. Even though the top selling fifty artists may each individually have huge numbers that dwarf those of the individual Long Tail’ers, it is the latter group’s aggregate power that matters. If you add up all of the one-sale artists, their total figure will outnumber the Top Fifty’s aggregate figure.

That is the dynamic that makes today’s media world so interesting. The net has provided a framework for the little guy or gal -- the indy artist – to distribute music in the same arena as the industry backed megastars. As a result, artists no longer even look at the “big record deal” as being the ultimate necessity for achieving success in the music business. They’ve heard enough horror stories from their comrades about getting ripped off by Hollywood accounting. So, instead of letting a label force them to go blow $300K on a recording session, followed by getting billed for another $300K for promotion – why not just go into a local studio and get it done for $5K and sell it on their own at live shows and through the myriad of websites that will now gladly take them on?

Big Media, of course, still doesn’t get it. The whole concept is totally foreign to their age old model of recycling old talent with a few hand picked newcomers tossed into the mix --- because it’s cheaper to market. Local tastes and niche genres are a thing of the past as the multi-market conglomerates spew the same garbage across their vast empires, turning the cultural landscape into a United States of Mediocrity.

Back at our table, we were rejoicing the news of a regional rock and roll band turning down a label deal with one of the big players. Under the new economic model, they have an equal chance of succeeding as an indy as they do in a big stable.

The other Long Tail topic that made our Square Table discussion was NBC’s recent ‘embrace’ of YouTube. Apparently, they were pissed about some clip from one of their shows being shown on this increasingly popular video sharing website. But in a gag-me P/R stunt, they ran a segment on their own Nightly News talking about “now we get it” and “we’re late to the party, but we really are hip to it all, kids.”

The result? They’re now happily producing trailers from all of their youth-centric TV shows and uploading them to YouTube. The goal? You guessed it folks – drive them back to the broadcast channel and let them slurp up their normal run of Lowest Common Denominator entertainment. Plus those catchy advertising spots, of course.

They might accomplish just that with a few folks. But what they don’t know is what is eventually going to kill them. For while they gleefully slap each other on the back because the figs tell them 4,000 people watched their big new show’s catchy trailer, there were 4,000,000 others out there who at the same time were watching backyard wrestling tournaments, barfing contests, karaoke sessions and skateboard punks.

Yes, the Long Tail is silently working its magic.