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.