Monday, 29 April 2013

The Business May 1st, 2013: The “G” is Silent, but Your Laughs Won’t Be!!!! Edition

We have such a wonderful batch of guests this week we are just beside ourselves.  Come be beside us too!

David Gborie comes to party. He’s been telling jokes all over the country for a couple of years now and he is, in his words, “Pretty legit at it”. He currently lives in San Francisco where he is a member of Sylvan Productions and can be seen around town lurking at one of their many shows or at Crissy fields with his trusty crab pot. As a perfomer he’s appeared at The Bridgetown Comedy Festival, SF Indie Fest, and Denver’s Too Much Funstival, as well as the SF Punchline, The Denver Comedy Works, and other impressive venues.

Also, up from LA we have Amber Kenny, a founding member of the sketch teams Little Kevin Buttersmith and Dumb Babies and Grant Pardee,  a literally perfect boy.

And watch out for Aaron Weaver!  All the way out from Chicago, he “sneaks up on you with an unorthodox style, then snaps your neck with a comedic Kung Fu chop to the spine. “

Plus all your regulars will be there as well.   Sean Keane,  Bucky Sinister, Nato Green and Caitlin Gill, all reporting for doody.  

All this for JUST $5!!!  Get there early, we sell out.  

BYOBurrito full of magical fruit. 

I don't want to win a lottery

What is man's greatest weakness. No, its not sex. No, its not even gambling.  It is his uncanny ability to fall for every "get rich quick" scheme.

Take the case of the collapse of the Saradha  (and probably numerous other such schemes) in West Bengal. This was a classic Ponzi scheme. Investors were attracted by fantastic returns (15-50% !!!). The early investors were paid off with money collected from subsequent idiots. Bingo. An avalanche started. Two years on, it has collapsed leading to much hand wringing and vociferous shouts of indignation.

What attracted my attention was not the scheme per se. They are dime a dozen. Remember the Emu farm scheme a little while ago in Tamil Nadu. Emu farming I believe - never mind that not one soul who put money into it had seen an emu in his life. But what has really got my attention is the response to the affair after it broke news.

There has been much clamour for regulation of such funds and criticism of governments for not regulating them well enough. Ramamritham must be rubbing his hands in glee at this new opportunity that has fallen into his lap. They want the death penalty for the owner of Saradha. A few people who have lost money have committed suicide. The loud lady who holds sway in the part of the country where this mess happened has announced a Rs 500 cr package to reimburse those who lost out . Never mind that the state is plain broke - there isn't money to pay salaries of government employees. The economically challenged lady, plumbed record depths by saying that she is going to  fund this by raising taxes on cigarettes and then exhorted her fellow citizens to smoke more !!!!! I kid you not.

The ancient fossils who are in opposition to the shrill lady, obviously oppose this, but their alternative is that those who lost must be reimbursed by auctioning the property of the owners of the chit funds. No wonder that this state has little hope of any advancement, if it is blessed with such wonderfully economically literate leaders.

Not one word has been said against the  lot who invested in such schemes. Pray ; why reimburse the clowns who lost money in this. They are no saints. They were simply attracted because somebody promised incredibly high returns. Any human with an ounce of intelligence must pause and think whether such returns are possible. Where will they come from. There is no return without risk and the correlation is direct. So if you let greed rule you, then don't cry when you lose your shirt. You deserve to be fried. 

One of the great rules of life is that winning a lottery is actually a curse. Getting rich quick is the surest way to misery. There is plenty of research to show that the majority of lottery winners do not find happiness.

The way to a better life is to get rich, of course. But slowly. Through hard work. Through initiative, through endeavour, through education, through innovation and through blood, sweat and tears. That is what brings true wealth. And happiness.

By the way, talking of Ponzi schemes - the biggest Ponzi scheme of all is property.  The only difference is that it operates on a time scale so large that an entire generation can become rich before it starts to unfold.  Pause and think about it. Every one of us gloats about the land/flat/house we bought some time ago and how its value now has an added zero to it. If you really think about it, its just another Ponzi scheme - some sucker will be left holding the curse sometime into the future. 

Grant me Lord, the ability to do a hard day's work, to make money by ethical and honest means, the strength not to be carried away by temptation, the courage not to want to get rich quick and some compassion for those who weakened and got burned. Compassion yes, but bailout, NO.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

European private TV has matured, but needs new strategies for development

The European television industry is one of the most balanced in the world, with public service broadcasters, advertising-supported broadcasters, and pay television operators reasonably dividing television revenues among themselves. For the 27 countries of the EU, pay TV accounts for about 38% of total revenue, public funded broadcasters for about 34%, and advertiser supported television for about 28%.
Unlike the US where private television dominates, most Europe private television began after liberalization broke the monopolies held by public service and state television in most countries. It has taken decades for private television to establish a mature place in the market.
When looking specific countries, however, total spending on TV (advertising, subscriptions, public funding) is not evenly spread. Adjusted for population, it ranges between €5 and €30 per person among nations, with an average of €15. There a notable differences between southern, central, and eastern European nations and nations in the north and west of Europe, where public service and pay TV are strong players.
Some markets are skewed with unusually strong TV subsectors. In Germany and Sweden publicly-funded TV is unusually dominant; there is unusually poor performance of advertising-funded TV in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Montenegro and Romania.
Today, pay television is the most positive sector in European television, with subscriptions for basic services and payments for video-on-demand services growing and the sector benefiting from the growth of video viewing on smartphones and tablets, particularly for its original programming.
Advertising-supported television is being squeezed between the more stable funding of public service broadcasters and pay TV providers and being hurt because advertisers in some countries remain reluctant to accept catch-up viewing in audience measurements for program broadcasts. It is not benefiting as much from video-on demand services as public service and pay TV broadcasters because much programming on advertising-supported TV is not original production owned by the broadcasters.
In order to survive in the new television environment, advertising-support TV in Europe has developed a diversified revenue, combining income from advertising, paid programming (home shopping, religious programming, etc.), product placement, sponsored events such as concerts and fairs, telecommunication promotions and services related to programming, income producing contests and lotteries, and renting studio space and providing video production services for advertising and corporate use.
Despite find their niches, both advertising supported and pay TV operators are now mounting efforts to obtain public funding to improve domestic program offering. In a number of countries they are asking policymakers to create contestable public funding to produce quality domestic content. They have asked cultural ministries to set aside funds for the purpose or asked regulators to divert portions of public service license-fee payments for the purpose.
In the contemporary environment, the business model of European advertising-supported TV needs significant addition, primarily because traditional TV advertising has low value for both viewers and advertisers today and there is a need to seek news ways to connect the two commercially. The extent to which they will rise to the occasion remains to be seen.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Alibaba and the Fourteen Years

Which is the biggest ecommerce company in the world ? Take a guess. Amazon ? E Bay ? You would be wrong if you guessed either of them. The biggest e commerce company in the world is Alibaba. Its portals handled a sales volume of some $ 170 bn. That is more than the volumes handled by Amazon and E Bay combined.

No, this is not some elaborate hoax dreamed up from 1001 Nights. Alibaba is indeed the largest e commerce company in the world. The reason you may have never heard about it is that it operates almost exclusively in China. It started life as simply , a business to business portal. It then added Taobao - a consumer to consumer portal, whose similarity to E Bay is, of course, entirely coincidental. Now it has started Tmall, a business to consumer portal, which again, bears a completely coincidental similarity to Amazon. All this in just fourteen years. The last two, if you click on the link, you will see are entirely in Chinese. And therein lies the issue. Can Alibaba really be a global major, while being largely only in China.

One of the trends you may have not noticed is that China has overtaken the US as the largest ecommerce market in the world. Chinese love to shop. And they are merrily shopping online. There is terrific internet penetration in China. And Alibaba, thanks to its visionary founder, Jack Ma, is reaping the rewards.

But then, can it be really the dominant player in the world ? I can't see shoppers of virtually any other country migrating to Taobao or TMall, even if it is in English.  "Open Sesame" worked for the fictional Alibaba, but its hard to see the doors opening that easily for the real Alibaba. There is a huge brand image problem to be overcome, not just of Alibaba, but even of China. As Huawei and a clutch of Chinese companies have discovered, it is not easy going global.

Even in the home market, Alibaba's position will surely be under threat from competition. However big the Chinese market may grow into, its hard to see any company being the world's dominant major, being exclusively in China. As Britain discovered a century ago and the US is discovering now, the sun does set on everybody who thinks he alone can dominate the world.

What of the supposedly more tech savvy India. India does not even have a pipsqueak of an ecommerce company. Why ? The blame for that is squarely on Ramamritham. He has made internet connectivity one of the most difficult things in India to obtain. He has virtually made impossible an Internet Cafe industry. He does not allow easy payment systems to emerge. He goes after those who try, like Flipkart,  and brings his full attention on them by lodging all sorts of cases. And he does not allow the global majors to come in.

And therein also lies the risk for Alibaba. Thus far, the Chinese equivalent of Ramamritham , Li Xiao has left them alone. But then Li Xiao is not a bureaucrat. Li Xiao is from the Party. Ramamritham is completely predictable - he will create every obstacle possible, but do nothing else. Li Xiao is entirely unpredictable. If Alibaba attracts political attention, then its fate is sealed.That's probably why the wily Jack Ma is stepping down as CEO. And he is planning an IPO. An IPO that might even best the Facebook IPO.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

My fiancé, talking about his new job after B-School:

I remind him about his student loans and he's like:

Not interested in the US anymore ?

So says Huawei. Really ?? No, not really. They are very interested in the US. Its just that they have realised that the doors to the US are simply shut for them. There has been a spat going on between the US politicians and Huawei for some time. It looks like the politicians have won.  And it begs the bigger question - can any company in the world be exclusively in one country or region (however big that might be) and hope to be a major player in the world.

Huawei is a telecoms company. They sell networking equipment significantly cheaper than say Cisco. They used to be crappy ( Cisco would snigger at the mention of their name). Not any longer. Same quality, half the price. In an uncomplicated world, companies  should be falling over themselves to buy from them.  But then, the world is not an uncomplicated place.

Huawei is a Chinese company. So what, you might ask ? Huawei's founder and leader was formerly in the Chinese army. Still so what ? Well, the ties with the Chinese government/army/party (same thing) never go away and its quite possible that Huawei will do whatever the Party in China asks it to. Huawei is not a transparent company. It largely refuses requirements that it be so.  And cyber espionage and hacking are weapons that the Chinese government uses against other countries constantly.The world's chief bugger (if you will pardon the bad pun) is China.

So Huawei is a pariah right. Wrong ? The US, and possibly every other major country does the same thing. Except that Obama cannot order Cisco to spy on his behalf while Xi Jinping can so order Huwaei. But then there is enough regulation and oversight in the US to prevent that from happening, or at least knowing that it is happening. And its not at all certain that Huawei would do anything major in the spying arena - its a $35 bn company. If its shown that it is doing something underhand, overnight, it would be expelled from the entire wold. But pompous Senators have repeatedly blocked Huawei from winning major deals in the US. Huawei has tried hard, but has won nothing. In frustration, they have simply given up. The beacon for capitalism and freedom, of course, does not think of the US consumers' interests (of getting things cheaper) and, of course, Cisco and other US competitors have been scrupulously fair , have never lobbied to stall Huwaei and surely windbag Senators have only the national defence of the US at heart.

Begs a question - why is only the US so paranoid. Every country in Europe has no problems dealing with Huawei . Even India, normally a completely paranoid country has plenty of Huawei here. The Chinese brass of Huawei in India go around with names like Ashok Li and Sundar Zhang. By the way, I have to recommend that Ramamritham Liu and Rajalakshmi Wang would also be worthy additions to their team. The only offense they have done to India is to start a Chinese canteen of their own on the grounds that what goes for Chinese food in India is unrecognisable by them and surely Gobi Manchurian is an abomination !

So what will happen to Huawei. They have admitted that they will have to revise their growth plans downwards. Without being truly global, no company can aspire to the big league. 

Or is that really true ? Could a company that's almost exclusively in one country be the largest in the world in its field ? We'll examine that in the next post.

Monday, 22 April 2013

When I pick my husband up today from his last day of business school classes, ever, I'll be like:

but I bet he'll be like:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Any Meaning in the Two-Year-Old sales?

Now that the boutique sales of two-year-olds in training are over, and the middle-market and lower-end sales are about to get underway, perhaps it’s time to take a look at the sales numbers and see if all the optimistic statements about market recovery have any more validity than, say, European politicians’ repeated insistence that just a little more austerity will bring the confidence fairy right back. It’s the business of those politicians to keep telling voters that recovery is just around the corner, and it’s the business of the executives at Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. to assure their constituency – thoroughbred breeders and consignors – to hang in there for just one more round of (literally) betting the farm.

But, as in the case of economic recovery in general, after a reasonable number of years, it makes sense to look at what’s actually happened since the worldwide economic crash in 2008. What strategies have worked, what haven’t, and what’s the outlook for the future.

To get to some of the answers, I looked at the results from the three high-level sales of two-year-olds in training: the Fasig-Tipton Florida (formerly Calder) Sale, the OBS March (formerly February) sale, and the Keeneland April sale. I left out the Barrett’s sale in Southern California because, frankly, I don’t know very much about that market and besides, it’s a long way away.

For those who want to check the figures or do their own analyses, you can find Fasig-Tipton’s auction results here, Keeneland’s here, and OBS Sales’ here

Fasig-Tipton has for many years been the pre-eminent two-year-old sale. That’s where Demi O’Byrne of Coolmore and John Ferguson for Sheikh Mohammed battled in 2006 to a $16 million hammer price for the spectacularly unsuccessful The Green Monkey. The Green Monkey, for those who might have forgotten, ran an eighth of a mile at the sale's under-tack show in the then-astounding time of 9 4/5ths seconds, never won a race and retired ignominiously to stud in Florida, where he’s standing for the princely sum of $5,000 and is so little thought of that he doesn’t even have a page in the Blood-Horse Stallion Directory.

In any event, Fasig-Tipton Florida has been where the big spenders in the game go to find stakes horses. In 2008, before economic ruin was apparent, the Calder sale catalogued 270 horses, of which 102 (37.8%) were sold, at an average price of $344,000 and a median of $230,000. A year later, in 2009, that catalogue was roughly the same size, 272 horses, and 111 sold (40.8%), but the average and median plunged sharply, to $236,000 and $150,000 respectively. At that point, Fasig-Tipton took a first small step toward downsizing, cutting the size of its catalogue to around 240 in 2010 and 2011, as well as moving the sale from its traditional location at Calder to the Palm Meadows training center in Palm Beach County in 2011. Those moves stabilized median and average prices, but by 2011 the number of horses sold had declined to 87, a mere 36% of those listed in the catalogue. The rest were either scratched from the sale or failed to meet their reserves.

Fasig-Tipton made even more aggressive downsizing moves in 2012 and 2013, cutting the catalogue to 167 horses last year and just 136 this year – exactly half of what it had been back in 2008-09. And the number of horses sold declined in tandem, to only 46 this year, or 33.8% of those catalogued. The result was a strong recovery in the median and average prices, which reached $320,000 and $385,000, respectively, at last month’s sale. But when only 46 horses sell, it’s hard to see the sale as any sort of an indicator for the industry as a whole.

Keeneland’s April sale of two-year-olds in training, held just last week, tells a slightly different story. Back in 2008-09, Keeneland April was a true boutique, listing barely 100 horses for sale each year. When, in 2009, fewer than 30% of the catalogue actually sold, Keeneland’s response was the opposite of Fasig-Tipton’s. Keeneland expanded the catalogue in 2010, nearly doubling its size to 181 horses. Predictably, median and average suffered with the expansion, but Keeneland has managed to double the number of horses sold each year from the nadir of 2009. In this year’s catalogue of 137 horses, 59, or 43.1%, actually sold last week. That’s a higher percentage sold than the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale has achieved in any of the past six years. And median and average prices at Keeneland this year were $$150,000 and $197,000, respectively. Not up to the hedge-fund level at the Florida sale, but close to where Keeneland’s two-year-old sale was back in 2008, before the economic crisis.

For those of us who made it through Economics 101, Keeneland’s approach looks paradoxical. When demand shrinks, as it certainly did after 2008, the natural response is to reduce supply. But Keeneland has maintained a small but reliable sale by increasing supply (though cutting back some in this year’s catalog). Perhaps the 50% cutback at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale created an opening for quality horses that Keeneland was only too happy to fill.

Interpreting the OBS Sales Co. data is trickier. Through 2010, OBS ran the first two-year-old sale of the season, a high-end one-day event in Ocala that preceded the marquee Fasig-Tipton event. Beginning in 2011, though, OBS Sales dropped the February sale and used its two-day March sale, which followed Fasig-Tipton, as its premier event. So the number of horses offered for sale can’t be compared across the two time periods. From 2008-10, OBS’s one-day February catalogue listed between 160 and 200 horses; from 2011-13, the two-day March catalogue dropped from 490 in 2011 to 345 this year, mirroring the decline in Fasig-Tipton’s numbers.And, as at Fasig-Tipton, the reduction in catalogue size had the (presumably) intended effect of stabilizing the average sale price, which was $157,000 this year, almost matching the 2008 level for the February sale, and substantially exceeding the average for any of the intervening years.

Additionally, more of the horses in the catalogue actually sell at OBS than at either Fasig-Tipton or Keeneland; since OBS dropped the February sale in 2011, between 48% and 54% of each year’s March catalogue has actually sold, compared to numbers around 40% for Keeneland and in the mid-30% range for Fasig-Tipton.

What to make of all this? While there will probably never be another bout of collective insanity like the one that resulted in Demi O’Byrne’s $16 million bid for The Green Monkey back in 2006, there still is a strong market for a few hundred horses that well-heeled buyers pick up at the two-year-old sales as a shortcut to the Kentucky Derby and graded stakes in general. But those few hundred horses are only a percent or two of the 22,500 foals now being born each year, a number that is itself a drop of about one-third from the foal crops of the early and mid-2000s. The top of the two-year-old market is very rarified air indeed. While the sales companies have figured out strategies that saved them from ruin in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis – and they deserve a lot of credit for doing that – these boutique sales  tell us almost nothing about the overall state of the thoroughbred marketplace.

Those black American songbirds

Ravi, who wrote this piece on  various forms of gramophone records is a certifiable music nut. He can wax lyrical (pun intended) on most matters musical. But when he does so about women 100 years old , well ........ you form your own conclusions.

The bloke writes beautifully, writes with passion and his words have magic.  If, at the end, you too fall for big black women who are 100 years old, don't blame me ! Read on.

There is something wonderful about the black American songstress of the days gone by.  They were usually big, with voices to match.  I can always tell a black singer from her voice, because of a certain something, a je ne sais quoi in their voices, in particular, in the voices of the great jazz singers of the 50s and later.   I venture an extreme opinion here when I say that singers of that era invariably were less schooled and less adept in the use of technology than their soul sisters of later decades.  For one – they had to graduate to the recording studio by singing in clubs and speakeasies, in smoky and noisy conditions where they had to make themselves heard. Second, recording technology was not as advanced as it is in these days, so a less than perfect voice could not be digitally tampered with.  As a result their voices sounded more authentic – a naturally lower timbre and the ability to hit high notes with great ease.

Last week I received my long lost consignment of LPs from France and among them was the treasured “At Last” by Etta James.  Etta was born during the Depression to a single mother who had an unsettled life – many jobs, many men, and no money.  No one knows for sure who her father was.  She was brought up in a foster home and discovered singing in a club.   Recording contracts followed. After she was relatively successful with a couple of big hits, the Argo label signed her and released this song and the eponymous LP in 1960.  The song itself was moderately successful initially, but over the years has acquired a sheen. Just listen to the voice here, filled with longing for the loved one who is finally with her.

Music reflects the times, and for me, it is very difficult to separate the performance from the context. This brings to mind the incomparable Queen of Soul, the one and only Aretha Franklin.  One of most beautiful songs from the 60s is “I never loved a man (the way I loved you)”.  And here is a story behind it.  Atlantic Records (founded by the Turkish immigrant Ahmet Ertegun) signed Aretha from another label.  She was then flown to Atlanta to meet the backing band.  This was during the 60s, civil rights, black power etc.  The story goes that she met the band – all of whom were white and of course, all enamoured of this young lady who had already shown her talent.  So they sat down, Aretha on the piano, and they banged out this song in two hours flat. It is very hard to not discern the natural desire of a newbie to showcase her talents even if it was to an admiring bunch of musicians who had not an ounce of prejudice. But this was the sixties in the South, and one can almost hear Aretha say – listen to this, boys, you ain’t heard nothing like this.

Love songs are normally about longing and absence – at least that was how they were. Therefore it is quite rare to come across this gem of a song that combines the longing of love with the pure lust of union, no matter how wrong it is or how messy the whole aspect of a man and a woman in love can get in life. Bessie Smith was another great black musician, who lived between 1895 or so until he tragic death in a car accident in 1937. She started life as a busker and lived a hard life.  The story goes that when she was taken to hospital after the accident the hospital refused to admit her because she was black. The original recording by Bessie Smith is here. However – no disrespect to Bessie – I prefer the version by Nina Simone.  Nina was a regal singer with a strong voice. She took Bessie’s original song and lyrics and modified it in 1968.  I prefer it to Bessie’s – probably because the permissive 60s allowed Nina to include the lust in love into the song.  Here it is - it really catches you by the throat.

And how can one not talk of the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  She lived a long and honored life, culminating in the Congressional Medal of Freedom awarded by Bush 41.  Born in 1917, she had a difficult and unhappy childhood but soon began singing on stage until her first recording contract.  She sang scat and bebop, but really became the darling of the American people when Verve Records (a label created around her!)  got her to record the Cole Porter Songbook.  This became the first of a series of records that focused on a single composer and helped establish them in the pantheon as serious musical works.  She also performed a subtle service to America – here was a black woman singing the songs that were predominantly composed by, sung by and listened to by the white American public.  There are many songs by Ella to choose from but my personal favourite is from the Rodgers and Hart songbook, “Manhattan”.  So evocative of that wonderful city, and so full of the simple joys of love between an ordinary guy and an ordinary girl.  What could be more democratic than that?

Let’s conclude with my personal favourite from Billie Holiday.  Another big black lady, with a voice that was made for wit and play with a beautiful vibrato.  Her childhood was anything but happy.  Born in 1915 to a teenaged single mother, she spent her childhood with a relative for the most part since her mother worked on the railroads.  Billie (born Eleanora Fagan) played truant from school at the age of 10 and was sent to reform school. At the age of 11 her neighbour raped her.  Her mother moved to Harlem, and both mother and daughter became prostitutes.   She was arrested and released at the age of 14.  She then started singing in bars and clubs in Harlem. Talent will out, and she made her first record at the age of 18.  Towards the end of her life (she died in 1959) she made an album for Verve whose title song “Day In Day Out”  showcases her amazing talent.  And when you listen to it you will understand why she is one of the great influences on jazz and pop singers since. 

This cannot be an exhaustive list by any means and neither is this anything but a set of purely subjective opinions.  I love these songbirds, and listening to them gives me hours of joy. It is always poignant to remember how unhappy their lives were, and wrought from these tempestuous beginnings were a musical gift we must treasure. Do explore these singers.  Switch on the music. Take your favorite senor or senorita by the hand to the dance floor.  On commence!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Business, April 17, 2013: The Fourth Birthday Celebration Edition

Happy birthday! Feliz cumpleanos! Bon anniversaire! The Business celebrates its fourth birthday with an eclectic lineup of special guests, along with all your Business regulars. We blew out our candles, and wished for a dream lineup of guests - and, as Anne Hathaway would say, it came true! From the dream factory that is Hollywood, we welcome back our good friend and star of stage and screen, Baron Vaughn. From the dream worker-owned-collective that is SF literature, we welcome Rumpus managing editor Isaac Fitzgerald. And from the chocolate factory Dandelion, we welcome chocolatiers Greg and Erica. After all, what would a birthday party be without dessert?

April 15, 2009 was a very different time. The #1 song in the country was "Poker Face." "Hannah Montana: The Movie" was #1 at the box office. Some people actually thought President Obama's birth certificate was a fake! And four SF comics started an experiment: a two-hour show, split four ways, every week at a theater in the Mission. Originally, Bucky Sinister was just going to rent a storefront so he could stand in it and just talk to passerby. When Alex Koll heard this idea, he thought it was crazy, and he decided he wanted a piece of that storefront plan. Eventually, the storefront became a theater and two people ranting for an hour each became four people ranting for half an hour each - much less crazy.

Over the years, the show evolved: more guests, more games, different Businessmen, bigger crowds, out-of-town shows, a "Best of SF" nod, and a franchise in Los Angeles. We've done nearly 200 shows, welcomed more than 200 guest performers, from comics to writers to clowns to musicians to burlesque dancers, and eaten roughly 200 pounds of refried beans. It's been a great ride - though that storefront might have REALLY been something. 

Our guests: 


Baron Vaughn is a dynamic performer whose standup involves song, dance, impressions, beatboxing, characters, and rock-solid joke writing. He was born in New Mexico, raised in Las Vegas, and came of comedy age in Boston. You have seen Baron as one of the Awkward Kings of Comedy, acting in "Black Dynamite" and "Fairly Legal," at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, the Aspen Rooftop Festival, doing standup on "Conan," or on his podcast, Deep Shit.

Isaac Fitzgerald is the managing editor of The Rumpus (, the cultural website that's full of reviews, interviews, advice, music, film and poetry. He's also the co-founder of Pen & Ink (, a Tumblr devoted to tattoos and the stories behind them, which is soon to become a real-life ink-and-paper book. Mr. Fitzgerald also hosted the Rumpus live events at the Make-Out Room, and still emcees Rumpus shows on both coasts.


Dandelion Chocolate is a small bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer in Dogpatch, which recently opened a store on Valencia Street, just a block away from the Dark Room itself. Their chocolatiers will sit down for an interview with the foodiest Businessman of all, Nato Green, though we urge audience members not to share their secrets with Mr. Slugworth.

So this Wednesday, come commemorate four years of Business. BYOBPHAP (Bring Your Own Burritos, Party hats, And Pinatas). Bucky, Nato, Caitlin, and Sean will be there in the flesh; Alex Koll, Chris Garcia, Chris Thayer, and Mike Drucker will be there in spirit. Please no gifts: your presence is your presents, along with five bucks admission.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

"Lala" Infosys

Infosys was , is , and will be a great company. Unarguably. But even great organisations suffer from malaise. Surprisingly, Infosys suffers from the malaise that you would not normally attribute to it - the Lala problem. Yes, I know, I am throwing mud at a great company, but you have to expect it if you lose 20% of your market value in one day.

Wait a minute. Isn't Infosys one of the most professional of companies ? A company that sets the standard for corporate governance. The company that raised the bar on ethical business. The company with the middle class values ? All true. But Infosys suffers from the same problem that family run companies have - the company is handed down from one  "family" man to another.

Only in Infosys' case, the "family" is not blood related, but the group of founders who set up Infosys. The peerless Narayana Murthy established it. The relentless Nandan Nilekani drove it to the status of a world leader. Kris Gopalakrishnan then took up the baton and reaped the boom years. And then , just like in a family,  the company was handed over from brother to brother, to Shibulal, the last of the founders. And as we all know, second and third generation families are never the same as the first generation.

In all this, quite a few senior managers stepped away, knowing they had reached the end of the road - not just that they could never lead the company, but that in the set way of things, they had done all that they could.

Infosys is not known in the market as a great company to work for. This, despite its undoubted brilliance, its strong values, its untarnished reputation and its incredibly strong balance sheet.  It simply does not attract the best quality talent that a leader in the industry should. And it loses talent far faster.

Calling it a "Lala company" is an insult to a great institution. But a staunch admirer of the company, and its founders that I am , I am usurping the right to be unfair.  A classic response of an organisation that is in the situation that Infosys is in now, would be to make an acquisition - especially since there is a mountain of cash burning a hole in its pocket. If its does that, it surely is then a Lala company. For that's what Lalas do.

Infosys will bounce back. It is suffering from the middle age blues - as all of us in our personal lives do too. It has reached middle age perhaps a little earlier than its peers - even in that it is a trail blazer. But its bounce will be faster if the founders leave. Lock their doors and go.

Its time for Infosys Gen 2 to emerge. One where there are no more "Lalas". 

An unfair post this one. For sure.  But you are only unfair to somebody you admire.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Whenever someone I don't know comments on this blog, I'm like:

Now you know, why this kolaveri di !

Murderous rage is exactly what I am feeling for all "coders" at the moment. Noticing that a good rant has been somewhat long overdue on this blog and given that I think I have solved the answer to the famous question - why this kolaveri di  , I think this post is justified !

You see, a couple of days ago, Samsung released the new Android OS (cutely named Jelly Bean) for its smartphones in India. Yes I know, Jelly Bean is ancient news, but that's how long it takes for things to come to India. Yours truly's phone duly got updated.  And promptly lost all its screens, settings, etc etc. Having been a veteran of software upgrades from MS DOS (anybody remember) and having been burned a few zillion times, "kolaveri" had long given way to stoic resignation . But this one takes the cake.

Remember the prompt when you are trying to delete and move something - it asks you - are you sure and gives you the option of OK or Cancel ? Notice it next time when that comes - its always the OK button on the left and the Cancel button on the right. Well, the coders of Jelly Bean decided that they should transpose the buttons - we know have Cancel on the left and OK on the right ! Why oh why oh why oh why oh why??? Which brilliant mind thought of this ?? After a zillion times of pressing OK when I wanted to Cancel and vice versa, you can now start to figure out "why this kolaveri" ?

And of course, the grand daddy of them all, the upgrade to Windows 8. Terra bytes of lament have been written about the disappearance of the Start Button. But Windows 8 has millions of such "improvements" that give a new meaning to the word kolaveri. For instance, the place where you key in a website address ? - since browsers had been invented, they are at the top. Now, in Internet Explorer for Windows 8, some "brihaspati" has thought it fit to take it to the bottom. Grrrrrrrrrrr. The most counter intuitive piece of coder output, surely has to be Windows 8. No wonder kolaveri is rampant.

Which brings us to the vital question - are coders just plain dumb ? Don't companies like Microsoft or Google test anything out with actual consumers - people like you and me ? A 5 minute conversation with an 8 year old would have solved all the disasters of Windows 8.  Consumer goods companies test everything out with amazing painstaking care - even the length of the french fry and the angle at which it curls is tested for months (I am not kidding).  And then you have a Google which comes and transposes the OK and Cancel buttons. Ugh !

The pox on all dumb coders.

P.S For those not familiar with Tamil, kolaveri is loosely translated as murderous rage. If you are still wondering about my question, then you may be a fossil and ought to listen to this song !

Thursday, 11 April 2013

When I ask my boyfriend if he booked a hotel room for his parents for graduation, he's like:

I realize they'll be staying with us and I'm like:

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Since I work at home, most days I'm like:

When I actually put on clothes on makeup and go work at a coffee shop, I'm like:

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

When my husband agreed to be a club officer his second year even though he already had a job, I was like:

(he agrees)

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Business April 10th, 2013: The Many Miles to K Before I Sleep Edition

The Business is lovely, dark and deep this week.  Come hear the sweep of our easy wind and downy flake!

Our guests are simply poetry.

Miles K!

In August of 2003 Miles K was sitting in an Airstream trailer, writing jokes and smoking meth out of an energy efficient light bulb. By 2004 he’d quit smoking meth but was still writing jokes and in 2007 he began performing stand-up. His act runs a gamut of surreal characters, Kaufmanesque pranks and observational insights. He has been Rooftop Comedy’s Comedian of the Day. His website,, is viewed thousands of times daily and his work has appeared on

Dave Thomason!

Dave Thomason is a stand-up comedian who was born in San Francisco and now tells jokes there. He recently won Rooftop Comedy’s Silver Nail Award recognizing the best up-and-coming comedians in the nation. Dave has performed at a bunch of neat-o festivals across the country, including the SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival. His stand-up has been featured on NPR’s Snap Judgment.

Grant Lyon!

Grant Lyon is a comedian and writer from Los Angeles, California. His comedic style is often described as sophisticated immaturity, blending intelligent wit with pure silliness. San Francisco Weekly describes him as “a hilariously sharp observer, not one of those tired white-guy bellyachers” and the East Bay Express writes “Lyon uses his knowledge of random Wiki-facts to set himself apart from other comedians. It’s a fabulous raison d’etre.”

Your regulars will be there as well, Bucky "BeatYOU UPnik" Sinister, Caitlin "Body Electric" Gill and "Howlin" Nato Green.

$5.  Get there early for a seat WE SELL OUT.

BYOBurrito and when it pleases you, snap at it.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

When my husband comes home just after leaving for class, I'm like:
but he is never like:

Thus spake Ravi

In my previous post on His Master's Voice, I speculated that "the LP nut", Ravi, would have an interesting comment. Instead I got a full post from him, written in his inimitable style. A classic, a collector's item and a passionate and wonderfully written piece. Here it is, as he wrote it.

The LP was not invented in 1902.  At that time, the most common form of recorded sound was the shellac record that ran for 3 ½ minutes on each side. Shellac was easy to  mould but could break very easily.  It was spun at 78rpm on mechanical players. You turned a spindle to wind up the plate on which the record rested, and a little speaker connected to the pick up converted the markings on the record to sound using mechanical conversion.  The first medium for recorded sound was the wax cylinder, which was invented by Edison in the late 19th century. There was no plate, but a spindle on which a wax cylinder was fixed.  Reproduction was mechanical. 

Electrical recording and reproduction soon followed, once Lee Deforest invented the triode in the 1920s that made amplification of current possible. It was possible to record sound from a microphone, amplify it, then use it to drive a cutting lathe that could precisely carve out grooves in a record.  Then an electrically powered motor that could run at a precise 78rpm could power a record player that picked up the grooves using a stylus that generated electrical currents from the arm. Glowing valves in an amplifier then converted scratchy shellac sound into music that could be played at louder volumes in drawing rooms.

America in the 1920s saw an explosion of electrical entertainment. Movies were becoming a very popular form of entertainment, and the problem arose as to how to have music accompany the action.  Western Electric pioneered a slightly longer version of the 78rpm record that could play for 10 minutes that coincided with the playing time of a normal movie reel. Every time the reel changed, the movie operator would change the disc.

Around the same time, radio was mushrooming.  Recording a 78rpm disc was very simple and thousands of locally made discs in small towns in the United States received airtime on the many hundreds of radio stations that dotted the country.  Singers and bands came out in their multitude. Regional and national popularity began to develop. Separately, though, people like David Sarnoff (the founder of RCA) started to consolidate radio stations to ensure uniform programming as well as to create the reach for national advertising. A mechanism was needed to distribute radio-plays that could be relayed across all stations in a network.  Thus was born the Radio Transcription Disc, which could hold 20 minutes of programming on both sides, with an ad break for the side changeover.  Surprisingly these discs survived until the 1980s.

The next innovation was to find some medium that was not as brittle as shellac. As artists began to become popular outside their local areas, there was demand to play their music.  Shellac records broke when sent by post to radio stations.  Enter vinyl – a form of plastic that was more stable and durable, and could also be etched with a finer lathe to hold more programming.

The availability of a stable medium that could be recorded using fine cutting lathes and the desire to listen to longer program music could only lead to one thing. The first Long Play Record was made in 1945 by Columbia Records under a team lead by Howard Scott (who died last year, mourned by yours truly).  This could hold 20 minutes of programming on each side.  The first LP released was of the incomparable Nathan Milstein and the New York Philharmonic (conducted by Bruno Walter) playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. You can listen to a later recording by Nathan Milstein here.

Stereo recordings followed very quickly (based on technology incubated at Bell Laboratories).  Magnetic tape had been invented in the Second World War - it became the norm for recording music. You no longer needed to cut the disc while recording was in progress in studios. Instead, one could set up a performance in great auditoria that had excellent acoustics and reproduce them on equipment that could come close to the concert hall effect in the drawing room.

In particular, I would mention two great sets of releases. One was Mercury Living Presence.  The second was RCA Living Stereo.  Both had gifted recording engineers.  The Mercury team was lead by Robert Fine, and a lot of their recordings were made at the Watford Town Hall just outside London using Telefunken microphones and Ampex 3-inch tapes.  RCA was lead by John Pfeiffer as producer and Lewis Layton as engineer, and they were ambitious enough to attempt to record a performance live.  The competition between Mercury and RCA produced some stunning recordings, some of which survive today as reference recordings of a piece by any artist anywhere.   LP technology continued to evolve. HMV, Decca, Deutsche Grammaphon and French labels produced records of great quality.  DG in particular, after the War, commissioned a History of Western Music series intended for libraries.  Beautiful recordings of early European masters, not just Bach but those who defined early European music were made by DG under the Arkhiv label. I used to pick them up second-hand in Rue de Chine in Paris for 2 euros apiece!

The advent of tapes and then CDs sounded the death-knell for LPs. Once MP3 players and iTunes got into the game, music purchase from retail outlets was doomed.  The ease with which music could be copied could easily have meant the death of the impulse to create. But in the last ten years vinyl has made a huge come back.  The LP format allowed an artist to experiment.  Anyone who loves the Beatles will agree with me that the B-side of Abbey Road is a masterpiece of symphonic proportions. Had the Beatles been forced to stick only to the singles format, this kind of music would not have been produced. In 2007 that poster-child for post-millennial artistic angst, Amy Black, released her iconic “Back to Black” album on CD and Vinyl.  She died of a drug overdose the next year at the young age of 21.  In my view this album will go down as one of the great pieces of music to be produced in these times and the album itself is a rumination on her young and confused life.  It is frighteningly mature. The format produced the impulse to express oneself in extended fashion.

But that is possible with the CD as well, I hear you say. Fair enough – but the CD came in as a mechanism to record two full sides of an LP on a single disk.  The LP format pervaded the CD at the start at least.  And its not that the single did not exist in the days gone by – indeed, the 45rpm disc which could hold two songs one on each side made its appearance in the 1940s and until the 1980s, was how a song became popular amongst young people. These could also be played in cars with the central perforated disc punched out, and one slid them in like you slide in a CD in a car stereo. The first CDs were pretty bad. But as sampling techniques improved, sound quality improved.  Some of the CDs today are fabulous.  Indeed, in 1991, Wilma Cozart Fine – the widow of Robert Fine of Mercury fame – took the set of old magtapes of the Mercury recordings to Philips and persuaded them to use the finest sampling techniques to encode a set of CDs with the same original sound of the LPs. The effects were astonishing.

Sound quality and musical reproduction are subjective. As a lifelong audiophile I do not seek to denigrate anyone who relies on a high street Sanyo for their musical needs because music has to sound good to you. There is no other test. But some of us are cursed with hearing that is a little more acute – if that’s the word – that can recognize the tonal quality, the separation of musical instruments when a recording is played, the “sound stage” – i.e. the effect of actually being to hear different instruments in their spatial locations in the recording room when the performance is played back in a drawing room.  All this will sound like pseud-talk and I can well understand that.  These warped individuals will think nothing of investing thousands of dollars in equipment that can improve the sound quality just that one little bit.

Late at night, with wife and daughter asleep and their doors closed, I remove two LPs from my collection.  I clean them on my VPi Vacuum Record Cleaner.  The system has been on for a couple of hours playing music softly to warm it up. What is it today? “Waltz for Debby”, by the Bill Evans Trio consisting of Bill Evans on the piano, Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, recorded in July 1961on the Riverside label at the Village Vanguard in New York just a few days before Scott LaFaro tragically died in a car crash?  Or will it be “Pieces de Viole” composed by M. Demachy in 1685 and performed by Jordi Savall and recorded on the French audiophile label Astree in 1978?  I pick Bill.  I mount the record on the Linn Sondek turntable.  I switch the Classe Audio pre-amplifier to LP pickup, and release the arm on the LP.  The sound travels through special cables to the phono stage, from there to the pre-amp, and then through a shielded cable to the Classe Audio power amp.  The power amp gives it a powerful boost and sends the signal to the pair of beautiful Bowers and Wilkins 802Ds.  I sit back on the sofa and read the sleeve notes for the hundredth time as the first notes of the piano lead enters my presence.  I am back at the Village Vanguard Club on July 25th 1961. I sip my brandy and lose myself.