Mar 30, 2009

Prediction: Tedisco vs Murphy on March 31


Murphy by 5%

No science; no polling; no man-on-the-street interviews.

Just a gut feeling ....


Mouth: You kinda blew that one, Gut ole boy.

Gut: Whatcha mean? Murphy's ahead.

Mouth: Not by no five percent, he isn't.

Gut: Five percent? I said five votes!

Mouth: Yeah, right. Tell ya what -- next time we try to forecast an election, we'll get Brains and Muscles involved.

Asleep at the switch

The Capital Region’s so-called ‘alternative newspaper’ is hit with a $65 million lawsuit as part of a tale with more plot twists than a Russian novel, and nothing about it from any of the local media outlets in the two weeks since? The story is finally broken by a rabble-rousing blogger over the weekend

Maybe the mainstream media is deserving of the fate to which it is currently being dealt.


A Spa City love fest

Republicans are embracing Democrats, and vice versa. Independents are hugging rank and file members of all political parties. Liberals and Conservatives are hooking up. Most amazing: city Democrats are even united as one!

What miracle could have brought this unheard-of spectacle about, you ask? The answer: the universal reaction (or better yet: revulsion) to the recently-released design for the updated City Center convention facility in the city’s downtown commercial district.

Looking like the textbook modernist school of architecture train wreck that it is, certain city officials perfected the “I really haven’t a clue” routine during the photo-op unveiling last week. While the civic design community has rejected this particular style as nothing more than an embarrassing historical mistake that gave the profession a black eye sure to last for generations, Saratoga’s leadership apparently thinks it to be a good idea to drop 1970’s urban renewal glass and steel into the city’s historic Victorian downtown landscape. Good thinking, folks.

The best regional comparison to this fiasco might be the Troy Atrium project – the two buildings look frighteningly similar. The City Council might be well-advised to take a road trip to the Collar City to discover just how well that particular project worked out. And then figure out a way to stop this disaster before the announced ‘late spring’ groundbreaking.



It’s the leverage, stupid!

Quality is a niche concept in this age of mass consumption and production. Cheap shit rules -- in both physical and intangible forms.

Musical performances by Britney, Rhianna, Yanni and Billy & Elton (cheap shit) sell out the Times Union Center, while any dozens of under-the radar (quality) acts come through town in any given month to play before empty seats in small rooms. The drive-thru lines are ten-deep at fast food joints (cheap), while family–owned neighborhood restaurants (quality) are disappearing faster than Greenland ice fields. Mass produced posters of romantic notions of home by some guy who bills himself as The Painter of Light (cheap) likely hang on more living rooms walls than all (quality) artists combined. On and on it goes…

The same holds true for information. Oprah and The View (cheap shit) draw millions more eyeballs than a Charlie Rose or a Front Line segment (quality). Talking heads delivering their peppy and perky twenty-second sound bites (cheap) are framed as journalists, while real examples of investigative reporters (quality) are few and far between. After all, who would publish their work, anyways? Then, of course, we have the Einsteins of the new political commentary order – the Hannitys, Limbaughs, Coulters and O’Reillys of the airwaves - playing to the cheap seats with their calls for a Redneck Uprising; all via a supposedly liberally biased infrastructure, remember. So the hunt for quality becomes an effort --- but maybe that’ how it should be; who knows.

Steve Forbes is a good American. When I hear him speak, I’m reminded of Newt Gingrich: I’m right there with both of them on the first 80% of what they have to say, but it’s that final 20% that goes off the deep end and makes me shudder. But they’re both presenting an intellectual argument backing up their conclusions (quality); and hey, 80% is a pretty good start, right? Besides, Mr Forbes is good enough to invite me to his bash up at The Sagamore each autumn, and that’s always a sure bet for getting on my good side.

Part of the Forbes media empire (if those things still exist anymore) is a series of newsletters on a variety of subjects revolving around a centralized ‘money’ theme. Of interest to the typical reader of this blog is one put out by Josh Wolfe called the Forbes/Wolfe Emerging Tech Report. With an emphasis on nanotech and cleantech trends and developments, it is a pricy paid product. But a free weekly summary version – which goes a bit wider into pressing issues of the day -- called The Weekly Insider can be had by emailing . I recommend it.

A recent issue offered insight into the housing crisis, with a look at the thinking of Yale economist John Geanakoplos. His recent publication, called “End the Obsession with Interest” contends that the real problem is leverage (the down payment requirement), not interest rates, when it comes to the problem of housing boom and bust cycles. To wit:

“In standard economic theory, the interest rate has long been regarded as the most important variable. Whenever the economy slows, and asset prices fall, economists clamor for lower interest rates to encourage more spending, and the U.S. Federal Reserve usually obliges. It has recently obliged again, lowering the bank rate to nearly zero. But sometimes, especially in times of crisis, it's the collateral a borrower needs to post (or what economists call leverage) that is far more important.

Yet variation in leverage has a huge impact on the price of assets, contributing to economic bubbles and busts …… in the absence of intervention, leverage becomes too high in boom times, and too low in bad times. As a result, in boom times asset prices are too high, and in crisis times they are too low. This is the leverage cycle.”

His takeaway point:

“What the Federal Reserve should do is manage leverage, curtailing it in ebullient times and propping it up in anxious times — especially in a crisis like now. Instead, it remains obsessed with managing the economy by lending money to banks at lower and lower interest rates, hoping, for no good reason, that the banks will turn around and lower the collateral requirements they impose on borrowers.”

Good stuff, and typical of what you’ll find in Mr Wolfe’s work. Sign up, if so inclined.


Mar 2, 2009

Transcripts from a Job Interview: Attack of the Killer Drones

The following is a real conversation that took place on Friday. The setting: my first meeting with someone who had expressed interest in getting on board with a new venture we are associated with as that venture's first salesman.

The Applicant (hereafter 'TA'): a fresh faced and energetic young man of about 23-25 years of age. Nanoburgh = 'NB'.

NB: Do you have any questions on the email I sent you which detailed the roles and responsibilities as we envision them at this time?

TA: I took a brief glimpse. But before we go there, let's discuss the compensation for this position.


TA: How will I be compensated for my time?

NB: Well, I don't look at it that way. I prefer to look at it as compensating you for your 'success', not your time.

TA: But I have a limited amount of time in my day and if I devote it to you I need to be compensated fully for it, right? I mean, that's business.

NB: I'm not sure about the 'fully' part. I would hope that a portion of that 'fully' would be based on that aforementioned 'success' thing. How am I protected from paying you a large mount of money up-front and then not seeing any results from that investment?

TA: Well, then you can fire me if I don't perform.

NB: I'm not good at firing people.

TA: Well, what is your severance package?

NB: Excuse me?

TA: If you were to fire me, what would I get in severance?

NB: Let me get this straight: you're asking me what our severance package is, right here in the first 2 minutes of your first job interview with us?

TA: Severance is all part of the negotiations.

NB: Tell you what. The coffee is on me, please enjoy it. But I need to run.

As much as I hate to play the 'generational' card; can someone please tell me why Gen Y (or Z or whatever letter we are up to) tends to have zero inclination for entrepreneurial pursuits?


Theory 1 (as offered by today's coffee mate): graduating collge students today are burdened with college-debt loads that are immensely larger than past decades, so they are forced into 'wage' jobs as opposed to having the luxury of engaging in a startup or 'Big Score' type of opportunity.