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.