Monthly Archives: June 2009

The day the music died

Michael Jackson died today.

On hearing the news, I was reminded of the words of the song “American Pie”, speaking of the death of another musical legend.

But unlike Buddy Holly, Michael’s musical career was largely behind him.

More later…

[later]

While his death has come as a shock, I am surprised that it has not affected me as deeply as the loss of Princess Diana all those years ago. I think that it is probably because Michael’s best years are behind him. The twenty-first century has not been kind to Michael, the past ten years have been heavy on notoriety and light on music. With no new songs in the offing, his legacy is essentially complete, while Princess Diana was taken at 36, with many years still ahead of her.

The newsies are running around in circles, showing the same five-second clips for thew five-hundredth time interspersed with excerpts of YouTube Videos. Shame that they don’t actually have anything to report.

Motown and Sony Music are probably rubbing their hands together with glee. They must think that Christmas came early this year. Watch out for yet another repackaging of Michael’s greatest hits, all of which we have already heard and none of which will ever be a rarity, “collectible” or not.

[much later]

The plot thickens…

  • The autopsy results are overdue and then are delayed pending toxicology results.
  • Rumors fly and theories are… well.. theorized.
  • Michael’s heart was described as “strong”. So why did it stop beating?
  • Talking heads wibble and spin.
  • Michael’s Doctor talks to the police, then disappears, then reappears with a lawyer…

What a mess. The family must be going through hell…

Now Reading: Showstopper! by G. Pascal Zachary

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Before you budget… simplify

Most of us know, at least intellectually, that the key to prosperity is living on less than you make, and the key to that is to control spending, and the key to that is to keep to a budget. One of the reasons that most people never get around to budgeting is that their finances are too complicated to start with. Over the past few years, My lady and I have discovered a way to simplify our finances to the point where our monthly bank statement fits on one side of one sheet of paper. Sound intriguing? Read on…

Part of the problem is that for most of us, our spending pattern  consists of a huge number of relatively small transactions; those of us who use their debit card to buy a pack of chewing gum at the convenience store or a boom-shakka-lakka-rakkachino at your local Fivebucks Bigbucks Coffee Shop know what I mean. All of those little expenses show up on your bank statement, and the result is an unholy mess that you just want to shove into a drawer and forget about.

The key here is to reduce the mass of small transactions into a handful of larger ones. The easiest way to do this is to combine the minor expenses, hit the ATM once a week and go cash-only. In my household, that cash covers: Groceries, Car Repairs (envelope), Household (envelope), Entertainment (Eating out, taking out, going out, and Sending out for Pizza), and a small amount of spending money for each of us “to walk with”.

The first time you do this it will be uncomfortable, make no mistake; if you are used to swiping your card without thinking, you will experience an “ouch” moment every time you open your wallet and see that inadequate wad of banknotes… but this is a good thing. Research has showed that people spend 15- to 35% more when they use plastic. So now, instead of “I came, I swiped, I bought“, your thinking becomes “Is this important enough for me to invest a portion of my ever-dwindling stash?“.

The real pain comes a little later; when you run out of money and realize that you were spending more than you thought you would.

Suddenly you are thinking and prioritizing – which is exactly what the marketers and merchants don’t want you to do. They want you to buy without thinking. Did you think that McDonald’s put in all those CC swipe machines out of the goodness of their hearts?

When you receive your next statement, however, you will see how much simpler it looks, and how much easier it has now become to count the cost… which is the first step towards setting up a budget that you can actually use.

Bye Bye BMG

It is the end of an era.

My primary source of new music for more than ten years – BMG music service – is shutting down.

Well not really, they are just changing their name and their business model. They are metamorphosing into “yourmusic.com” a monthly-subscription club that they have been running for a while and are encouraging BMG members to migrate to.

So what has changed?

  • Gone is the infamous “12 for the price of 1” deal that so many (not I) took advantage of… several times.
  • Gone are the horribly inflated 4th class shipping charges (I did not realize that there was such a thing as 4th class mail until I got CDs from them).
  • Gone is the “Featured Selection” that is sent to you every few weeks whether you asked for it or not.
  • Gone are the music points that allowed you to snag free CDs for only the shipping cost.
  • Gone are the 60-65-70%-off-with-free-shipping sales.
  • Gone are the ridiculously-priced $18 CDs. This is a good thing.
  • New: a “Membership fee” of $6.99 a month. For this, they send you the first “available” CD in your “queue” (a la Netflix). This is a good thing.
  • If there is nothing in your queue you still pay, but get nothing. This is a bad thing.
  • Additional CDs are $6.99 each. This is a good thing.
  • Multiple CD sets, on the other hand, cost $6.99 per CD. This is a very bad thing.

What hasn’t changed?

  • Same website layout
  • Same pathetic selection.
  • Same non-existent customer service.

Which begs the question: why is this particular leopard changing its spots?

I think I have the answer; or at least an answer based on my experience. I came to the realization some years ago that if you didn’t buy anything from them for long enough, they would eventually do a sale. I then stopped buying their full-price offerings and only bought stuff in the sale. I made quite a few bux selling CDs on eBay this way, but all good things must come to an end. It occurs to me that if others started behaving the same way, then BMG would have found themselves selling very little product at full price, then experiencing an avalanche at sale time. This may have hurt their profits, in which case they cannot go on like this forever.

Other theories:

  • BMG Music has acquired such a bad reputation among some people that they are hoping that if they change their name the great unwashed won’t notice.
  • They enticed members with “2 CDs every year for life” and no longer wish to honor the agreement.
  • They figured out that the $6.99/month “subscription” arrangement is more profitable than selling stuff than you may or may not buy (if this is the case, they will make it difficult to cancel your membership).
  • It was not profitable hawking $20 CDs to people who only buy stuff when it is on sale.

More information here and here.

Boldly Going Onwards

I went to see the “Star Trek” Movie yesterday.

It was a well-crafted movie, with a good balance of storytelling, drama, action and special effects. It was billed as “the first Star Trek movie for non-Trekkies”, a mantle that it wears well. There will be a sequel, and deservedly so.

The only fly in the ointment was that one potty-mouthed character just had to use the word “G/damned” (sorry, but there is no better way to put it).

I’m not trying to be Miss Manners here; there are times when profanity is permissible – when another character used “BS” elsewhere in the movie it was apropos, and the way it was delivered it was actually funny.

But why oh why does Hollywood persist in using God and Jesus as all-purpose swearwords? Why not Allah and Mohammed?

(cos the Muslims won’t let you live if you do – that’s why)

The saddest thing about this was that the aforementioned blasphemy was totally unnecessary. They could have dropped the word completely and it would not have changed the line. In fact, the same line line was delivered in the trailers without the offending word.

I guess it is my fault for listening to the rave reviews and not researching more deeply…

Hollywood, you’ve got my money this time, and I cannot say I was ripped off… but that one word cost you a DVD sale. I hope that it was worth it.

And that, my friends, is how we roll.

Memories of Paris

The high point of my recent trip to London was, ironically, the two days and one night we spent in Paris.

  • Paris’ reputation as the world’s capital of romance is secure; it seems that everywhere we looked there were young couples snogging (making out/canoodling/getting it on… you get the picture).
  • Paris is an extraordinarily beautiful city; I suspect that this has much to do with restrictions on building and developing.
  • It seems that Paris is the world capital of chain-smoking. This include the Young, Hip and Pretty, who are apparently too intelligent to do something this stupid in most other cities. While smoking inside buildings is prohibited, they make up for it by smoking everywhere else – this made it impossible to indulge in that most Parisian of pastimes, sitting at a roadside café and watching the world go by – there always seems to be a chain-smoker upwind of you. This intolerable if, like Milady you happen to be an asthmatic.
  • Public transport is cheap and works well (unlike London’s, which has gone to the proverbial dogs).
  • A twilight cruise down the Seine is an absolute must for the first-time visitor. Notable highlights included watching the Eiffel Tower light up like a giant sparkler, and getting mooned by a trio of young men on the riverbank as we went serenely sailing by.
  • We did not experience any of the rudeness that many Brits and Americans complain about. I suspect that this is because I tried to speak a few words of French where I could, instead of simply yelling at them in English.
SmartCar

Parisian Parking!

Bonsoir Paris!

Postcard from London

I just came back from two weeks in London. Here are some of the things that stick in my mind.

  • The streets are paved with… chewing gum. This doesn’t stick in my mind so much as stick to my shoes. If it is not cleaned off – and is usually isn’t – it eventually turns black…
  • Their cellphones are much nicer than ours.
  • The service is cheaper, too.
  • Most of the stores on Oxford Street do not have air conditioning (funny, but I never missed that when I lived there…)
  • Broadband internet is both cheaper and faster than here in the U.S. Why is this?
  • Most British businesses are now owned by foreign ones.
  • However, the reverse is not true, because many foreign governments will actively prevent this. How odd.
  • From observation, the European Union = Britain being gang-raped by the rest of Europe; nobody I asked could come up with any advantages for Britain being in the E.U.
  • The worst drivers used to be Indian men driving old Volvos; now it’s Women wearing burkhas. Sorry if this offends, but I call ’em as I see ’em…
  • Public transportation is a mess. This is a result of decades of systematic underfunding, and the Government persisting in the illusion that should be run at a profit, and consequently selling off everything that isn’t nailed down in bygone years. As a result it is also horribly expensive.
  • The London Underground has gone Olympics-crazy and has decided to upgrade the stations. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems that it is trying to do them all at the same time… which means that an awful lot of stations look like combat zones.
  • Traffic planners have put French-style traffic lights on most major roundabouts, which is bloody stupid in my opinion.
  • Also from the “bloody stupid” department, too many road junctions have been replaced by mini-roundabouts. This brings to mind Churchill’s definition of Communism – “Replacing an unequal share of blessings with an equal share of misery”.
  • The Motorways (freeways) are infested with speed-trap cameras. Safety or revenue? You decide…
  • The link between Monument and Bank – smack in the middle of London’s financial district – is down, which means coming out of one station, walking a quarter of a mile and then walking down stairs to the platform (cos the escalator is out). Still, it gives the bankers some much-needed exercise, I suppose…
  • Jeremy Clarkson for Prime Minister!
  • Jesse’s Café in Walthamstow market makes a great breakfast!

Now Reading: IOUSA: One Nation, Under Stress, In Debt, by by Addison Wiggin and Kate Incontrera