Friday, January 30, 2009

Politicans Being Politicians

This piece by Daniel Politi in yesterday's Slate, recapping coverage of the political maneuverings around the stimulus bill, leaves me deeply chagrined. I'm reminded of why we hate politicians. Forget the partisanship, I'm just talking about what's being done to this stimulus bill by both parties. These guys couldn't rise to an occasion with saturn rockets strapped to their backs. And I'm not sure about the actual bill, itself, either.

In a way, it's refreshing to loathe politicians for simply being politicians. After years of loathing them for being partisan hacks, it's something of a relief to see them acting like the regular old incorrigible, short-sighted, greedy, self-serving dweebs they've always been under whatever more horrific garments they'd donned.

They're also reminding me why we, as a society, have grown more cautious about ambitiously solving problems via public money. It's like a sausage factory where tax dollars go in, but mostly putrid links emerge. The inefficiencies, the nonsense, the waste, the pork...tsk. Can anything positive be achieved by these guys above and beyond the cynicism and the greed, and the dark roiling clouds of unintended consequences? Just imagine the further degradations as the money actually goes out; the sleazy contractors, the rigged bids, the pay-offs. Ugh.

I suppose I sound like the Republicans, but they only pay lip service to their aversion of big government (all recent Republican administrations have massively increased government's size). One relevant quote from the article:
"Implementing some changes requested by Republicans has already pushed the total cost of the bill in the Senate to almost $900 billion. And that's bound only to increase."
Of course, the same fate befell the Bush stimulus package, which got all porked up. This is simply how the process works. But I'm left unsure that the pipe dream of governmental non-partisanship is what's most called for, after least when it comes to spending public moneys. The problem isn't a paralyzed inability to act. The problem's how politicians behave when they do act! If only we weren't led by politicians! 

Alas, there may be scant alternative. Hoover-esque laissez faire didn't work very well in the last depression, or in Japan's "lost decade" (the aftermath of similarly burst bubbles). But as we go about this, our government doesn't look any more sane, enlightened or "modern" than governments throughout history. Maybe things aren't getting better after all

I'm no economist, but I'm starting to wonder whether the Republicans are right. Just hand the money to the people and to businesses in the form of massive tax relief, and let them spend the economy back into movement. Some wisely-applied direct Keynsian stimulus with public money would likely work better, but wisdom seems in very short supply.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 5

Previous installment

I met with the powerful corporate titan dude a couple more times, but he remained cagey, asking lots of questions but offering nary a clue as to what he was brewing up. Then one afternoon, a week or two after our first meeting, he called to invite me to come over his house that night. On a Sunday. At 10pm. And his voice on the phone was trembling.

I naturally imagined I'd be led into a basement room, hear a heavy door clang shut behind me, and find a dozen other young entrepreneurs adhered to the walls via staple gun. But, no, nothing that weird (well, actually it was
totally weird, but wait for it). I met his lovely wife and beaming children and no masked, leather-clad dudes named Dolph. The family was very nice, though my synapses over-fired as I tried to grok what on earth I was doing in this near-stranger's pad late on a Sunday night, being very meaningfully introduced into this domestic tableau. Was he planning to adopt me?

Then, suddenly, wife and kids were gone, and I found myself sitting on an ottoman, facing mogul, who seemed uncharacteristically nervous. Cold sweat condensed in beads on his brow. He cleared his throat and, obviously terrified, he told me he'd decided to quit his job as a famous top executive for an all-powerful, titanic media that he could come to work for Chowhound. For free. And would...would...that be ok with me?

I blinked, gulped, inhaled, stammered out something polite and mildly encouraging, and managed to extricate myself from his tasteful townhouse. The Chowhound saga had always been surreal, but I felt like I'd dropped down the final rabbit hole. Once I'd staggered out the door and into the street, gulping fresh oxygen, I dialed my business partner.

"Uh, Bob," I murmured into the phone, "it looks like we maybe ought to hold off on closing the site for a minute..."

Read the next installment (#6)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SIGA: Told You So!

If you'd bought $1000 worth of stock in SIGA Technologies on June 9, 2008, the date I first recommended it, your investment would be worth $1460 today, a 46% gain. By contrast, the S&P 500 has declined since then by 36%.

And the market has not even begun to value SIGA's potential. Its stock price will almost surely pass $10 within the next six to nine months, and that's solely on the power of its leading smallpox drug (contracts with US and EU are imminent), disregarding its mind-bending pipeline, which quietly includes medicines for drug-resistant strep, staph, and pneumonia. 

Explaining Blagojevich

The only thing creepier than Rod Blagojevich himself is the way TV hosts have been warmly welcoming him to their shows, as if he were a bona fide celeb. "Today, ladies and gentleman, we have Joseph Goebbels on the show! Herr Goebbels, what a pleasure to have you with us! So, how has the balmy Paraguayan climate been treating you?"

Scumdog Million-hairs (as The Daily Show calls him) received a warm welcome from Aaron Brown on CNN ("So, governor, welcome. It's good to have you here.") but the subsequent interview was interesting because, for the first time, someone tried to aggressively and relentlessly cut through the delusion and bluster. Not that it did any good, of course.

He's certainly not crazy. Understanding that impeachment and an end to his political career are foregone conclusions, Blagojevich is taking "any press is good press" to an extreme, sopping up coverage and generating buzz - any buzz! - for himself. He's only 53, and needs to stake out some sort of future for when he gets out of jail, so he's using the predicament to pump up his brand. If he could go on these shows and just say "Blah blah blah blah", he would. It's not about coherence or content, it's about raw national camera time. Hence the Kipling and the random blatherings about Gandhi and cowboys. He's simply marking time; filibustering, even. It's the single purest example of media whoring in the history of mass media.

When Obama's senate seat opened up, Blagojevich's famous quote (captured on FBI tape) was: "I’ve got a fucking gold mine here, and I’m not gonna let it go for fucking nothing!" The publicity value of his current notoriety constitutes yet another "fucking gold mine," and the ever-opportunistic governor is mining as aggressively as he can.

And it will work. He'll grab himself a talk radio show, a column, a career doing self-effacing cameos in satirical movies. Something. If you're iconically famous enough, there's always some way to be whored out. 

About Free Stuff

Four things:

1. I'm surprised how many people don't know about
The Freecycle Network. It's sort of like craigslist for free stuff.

2. Here's a great
David Foster Wallace anecdote, from his short story collection "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men", about the irrational aggravation involved in trying to give things away for free (thanks, David Agraz).

3. As a follow-up to that anecdote, my dad ran an auto parts store, where he tried offering a deal where buying $20 worth of merchandise got you a free watch. Everyone ignored the offer. But then he tweaked it: if you bought $20 worth of merchandise, you could get a watch for only five dollars! All of a sudden, customers started loading up their carts and angling to get the $5 watch. A free watch is value-less.

4. Therapists have long pointed to this same quirk in human nature to justify their high charges. Patients won't take their treatment seriously, they claim, if they're not paying near the pain point. It's clearly self-serving, though there's some truth in it. On the other hand, it's also dangerously close to admitting that therapy success derives from placebo effect!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here She Comes...

Being a reasonably sophisticated urban type, I know that beauty pagents are "bad". They're sexist, offensive throwbacks. We, as a society, have evolved past that sort of thing, and their continued existence is an embarrassment. As the LA Times wrote yesterday:
"Why does Miss America still exist? The Miss America contest is stupid and dated.... [it's] even sexist in a dated way."
Educated, sophisticated people know to grimace and drip icy irony when the subject of beauty contests comes up. It's an instinctual reaction, sort of like we'd have to minstrel shows or Charlie Chan movies.

But wait. Are we saying that judging people on their looks has become passé? That our culture has evolved to favor deeper attributes - ideas, generosity of spirit, etc.? That the sexes no longer objectify each other, and that women, specifically, have come to resist objectification?

Be serious! At this moment in our society, the highest compliment one can pay is to call someone "hot". Looks have never been more consequential to more people in more realms. And objectification isn't passé, it's institutionalized - entirely accepted and even embraced by both objectifier and, uh, objectivee. Object. Whatever.

The new wrinkle is that if the objectified party has
chosen to be objectified, it's deemed ok, because that equalizes the power dynamic. Madonna used raw sexuality to get where she wanted - and her message was entirely about using one's raw sexuality to get where one wants. Madonna is a poor singer. She's neither talented nor interesting. She's simply an ambitious, outrageous stuff-strutter. She's the Material Girl, she's Blonde Ambition, and she's just fabulous, an iconic inspiration to women everywhere. You go, girl! And what profession evokes greater status and sophistication than modeling, the ultimate objectification? Even pornstar Jenna Jameson is deemed chic. Porn chic!

So let me see if I understand. When Miss Oklahoma ambles around in a one-piece swimsuit for a chance to get a scholarship to go to college, for godsakes, that's a sad, disgusting display?

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 4

First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

In the previous installment, I'd learned some very interesting things from a powerful media executive, but had no idea why he'd asked to meet me in the first place.

Acquisition was clearly not on the table; Chowhound was no fit for the titanic conglomerate he helped run. So something else was going on. But one thing was for sure, this wasn't just another hand-job of the sort I described in
installment #2, where VIPs pretend to want to help but mostly just want to eat with That Chowhound Guy. This latest mogul was talking more than he was eating. And he was actually offering helpful information. After eight years of buying dinner for zillionaires, this was a first.

But we finished our meal, shook hands, and went our separate ways without any explanation offered. It was a flyby. Whatever was up would be revealed at a later time, and there was no sense in my getting pushy.

There was much to digest for the time being. Over and over, I played the scenario in my mind. To keep Chowhound alive, we'd need to solicit a few hundred thousand dollars of investment money (which would entail ongoing communication and collaboration - not to say pressure and bullying - from the investors). We'd need to bring on many new moderators to handle a traffic surge. And we'd need to replace our software. Plus, of course, keep feeding the monster - the ghastly daily overhead which preserved Chowhound's value as a resource (readers unfamiliar with Chowhound's forum should understand that it serves less as a social network than a trove of aggregated data, so the quality and focus of that data is paramount).

We'd spent years trying to replace our ancient, over-burdened software. Its primitiveness had served the purpose of deflecting traffic until around 2003, but it was around then that we began to fear an absolute limit. That is, we could foresee the day when our tech would blow up, spraying chowy shrapnel all over cyberspace. So we got serious about replacing it, bringing on two consecutive teams of programmers to tweak two different off-the-shelf forum software packages to meet our specific needs. For example, we needed to carry forward all the administrative tools we'd created in our old set-up, lest we lose the upperhand with the psychos and vandals. Since those tools were all unique, much labor-intensive customization would be needed.

The first push involved a couple of volunteer programmers working nights and weekends. They lagged, and the endeavor came to a halt when we realized our traffic had already outpaced the capacity of the new software. Our second push, with a paid programmer, became mired in technicalities just prior to launch. Both were Bataan-death-marches-within-the-greater-Bataan-death-march, and it had become clear that all off-the-shelf forum software is absolute shit, cobbled together with spit and wires - useful for small and medium-sized sites but completely unpredictable at larger scale. And we were too busy an enterprise to risk unpredictability (our ancient software was inadequate, but we'd consistently managed more or less 0% system downtime). Simply working, even working poorly, was infinitely better than crisis.

Better software could be built from scratch, but online forums are complicated beasts. Myriad people use them myriad ways - some intentionally destructive - and the off-the-shelf programs have at least been patched and tweaked over time. Creating custom software would mean reinventing countless wheels, and would require eons to really hone. All options, in other words, were sloggy.

Well, no. There was one other option: a quick, shallow, cynical makeover. We could have swapped in slick-looking off-the-rack software in under a week - admin controls and user features be damned. We could have slapped corporate lipstick on the pig (e.g. by eliminating our "mission statement" front page - an opinionated rant which deliberately rebuffed trendies). Moderation could have been eased back, stimulating a short term traffic swell (flame wars pack in audiences, per the gag about the talk radio host who, desperate for calls, asks if anyone out there wants to voice an opinion about murdering nuns). And we could have suspended publication of ChowNews, the apotheosis of our whole operation. I'd devote myself to shmoozing business people, letting the site drift, entropy be damned. Hey, we had the brand. With so much sizzle, the steak hardly mattered!

It was amusing to type the previous paragraph, because, until this very moment, none of those actions had actually occurred to me. I gag at the spectral image of my alternative-reality self. But, it's true: a little pig lipstick would have gone a long way to making us investor/corporate friendly, and a short term boost in traffic would have brought in fast ad money. Dear lord, It's so blessedly easy to suck. Sucking is seductive; it entices like a Siren. The Sirens of Suck literally suck you in. That's why they call it "sucking"!

I can't resist digressing with a quick vignette from the surreal Chowhound saga: Just before all this, very late in the hopeless slog period, I'd received an email from none other than the
Macarthur Foundation - the "genius grant" folks who toss $500,000, with no strings attached, at people doing clever and/or useful things. And they were writing to invite me to, uh, serve on the nominating committee! You know; to help them find deserving recipients out there! People who could stand to be rewarded with half a million bucks for their fine, outside-the-box work! Do I know anyone like that?

I dutifully sent in a few nominations, including one for the
Arepa Lady . And I was happy to do so, though none of my suggestions won. But it felt like someone crawling, thirsty, through a desert being asked to point jolly folks passing in a late model SUV toward parched souls who might like some lemonade.

But getting back to the story...

I tried to
think carefully about exactly what outcome I was hoping for. The only thing that seemed to make sense was out-and-out acquisition. Pass Chowhound to a company with the resources to keep it rolling (and low likelihood to ruin it), and let me get on with my life. Or else stick with the plan to shut it all down. In my position, painted into a corner after a brutal slog, nothing else seemed viable. Even acquisition would require a certain level of stamina and shmoozing, and I wasn't sure I still had it in me. But I waited to hear back from this latest titan of industry. Maybe he had some Hail Mary play up his sleeve.

In the next installment, we pick up the pace...and the mysterious mogul makes me an extremely shocking offer.

Read the next installment (#5)....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Great Post-Katrina Show

"The Old Man and the Storm", a FRONTLINE special about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina through the eyes of a fifth-generation New Orleanian, is well worth watching (excellent quality for online video, too).

Here's a suggestion for the Obama administration. How about using that stimulus money to finally fulfill the pledge of the previous administration:
"We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. This great city will rise again." - George Bush, Sep 15, 2005

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Budapest Redux Redux

I'm perplexed by the reaction to my Budapest Redux entry. Everyone seems to have reached the conclusion that I hated the place. In fact, I described the people there in glowing terms, especially in contrast to Americans. And I noted that "the culture's rich as paprikash; deep, pervasive beauty is everywhere; and subtlety is keenly appreciated." Is that chopped liver? Yes, there's a dreariness, but that's surely a catalyst for the flowering of human spirit found in places like Budapest. A drearily beautiful place with soulful, subtle, spontaneous, non-superficial people is nothing to sneeze at. I'm trying to decide whether it was poor writing that caused the misimpression, or whether the very qualities I find lacking in American culture cause Americans to instinctively over-recoil at such a description.
I also forgot to mention that one shouldn't imagine going to Budapest and not staying in one of the lovely and lovingly maintained apartments rented by my friend (and Chowhound stalwart) John Farago. John also hosts an amazing series of fascinating and beautifully written web pages on many aspects of culture there. Also see his interesting tips and comments in this thread.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Popular Sufism

In the rather unlikely event that you have an interest in Sufism (or in the slightly more likely event you're curious about persecution of these poetic, tolerant Moslems by their fundamentalist co-religionists), this article, reprinted from the December 18 Economist, is quite interesting. It describes Sufism as it's actually practiced by a great many people in South Asia, which is in stark contrast to the classical, mystical Sufism Westerners hear about.

Actually, a better link for the article is here, on the Economist's own site, where you can also see the photos.

After reading the article, you may want to read the interesting comments (beneath the article) on that first site. There's also a lengthy comment posted by me, at the bottom.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Address Redux

Obama's inauguration speech was mostly terrific, as expected. Best were the parts spoken to foreign countries. What a delight to hear such a powerful distinction drawn between terrorists ("you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you") and Muslims ("we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect"). It's painful to acknowledge that this distinction was seldom explicitly drawn by the previous administration, nor was it ever perceived by the Muslim world. But, patently obvious though it is, it was earth-shakingly significant to have this stated so resoundingly while the whole world was watching. Also, the choice of the word "respect" demonstrated keen cultural understanding. Many Muslims feel, above all, disrespected by the West (and not without ample reason)...and respect is paramount in Arabic cultures.

But a lot of the speech ("winter of our hardship", etc) had a "darkest days" quality. And while everyone's aware that these are tough times, it's doubtful the average American at this point deems this anything more than a dip in a cycle - though Obama's economic advisors view the situation with vastly greater alarm. So I'm worried that the "buck up, we will survive this" message might actually elicit more fear (ala "My God, I had no idea things were actually
that bad!"). This may validate Obama's oft-stated concern regarding the potential for isolated presidents (or presidents-elect) to drift out of touch with popular sentiment.

Knowing When to Quit

Here's a CNN article including some thoughts from Dean Kamen, inventor of the hyped-but-disastrous Segway - plus some successful things - about how hard it is for an entrepreneur to know when to quit (apropos, of course, of my series of entries on the sale of Chowhound).

Curiously, the article doesn't make note, specifically, of what a hopeless slog Kamen's Segway has become - though that is of course the context for his remarks. It's also a bit strange to see Kamen remarking on the quitting issue before he's actually called it quits.

Some good quotes:
"When to quit... is 'the toughest question there is' for any entrepreneur who survives on creativity and instinct....'It's not nearly as glamorous as people think to keep working on something and to keep hitting roadblocks and to keep going.'"

"Every entrepreneurial innovator he's ever seen shares a few characteristics. 'It's not that they're brilliant or well-educated,' Kamen said. 'They work all the time. They don't let failure demoralize or destroy them. They pick themselves up and keep going...'"

"You need to be in denial or in ignorance about the huge challenges you face," [says Guy Kawasaki]

Monday, January 19, 2009

Budapest Redux

I fly home from Budapest this morning, so I figured I'd sum up.

The word "heavy" has two meanings: 1. profound and 2. dreary. Budapest is heavy both ways.

There's plenty of profundity. The culture's rich as paprikash; deep, pervasive beauty is everywhere; and subtlety is keenly appreciated. Hungarians show something more in their eyes than raw aspiration. Deeper sentiments, elsewhere buried in subconsciousness, are here closer to the surface. And all this feels like tonic to me, because I've developed an allergy to scripted encounters.

It began with telephone customer representatives wrangling me through their scripts and waiters reciting spiels at me. That sort of thing makes me feel edgy and dehumanized. And my aversion has expanded to the point where I find it painful to engage - regardless of setting - in the facile exchange of prefab little bundles of cliches. Being creative, I live to topple expectations. I'd rather choke than follow a script. This, of course, disturbs those who cling to scripts for their sense of order. But I'm compelled to upend that order. And as I've grown less and less willing to follow the script, Americans seem to have grown more and more scripted...even in their most intimate relationships.

Hungarians are far more open and flexible, more spontaneous and nuanced. Layers are registered and irony is relished. But, alas, this place, from its Baroque architecture to its pandemic smog, corrupt politics, vowel-less language and unimaginably heavy cuisine, is oppressively dreary. My grandparents, like many Eastern European immigrants of their generation, would mention "The Old Country" with a certain scowl. They didn't use the word "dreary", but that's what they meant. And it hasn't changed.

That's not entirely a bad thing. There's great value in conserving tradition, and tradition always feels unmodern. But Hungarians suffocate under the oppressive drapery. Much stems from the enduring legacy of the Soviet era - I was amazed at how much character from those days remains, even creeping into contemporary aesthetics (especially architecture). But this dreariness also seems present in the very DNA. It was audible in people's croupy coughs. I suggested to one acquaintance, between his alarming phlegmy hacks, that he might want to have his cough looked at. He glared back at me hotly. I changed the subject to keep peace, but his reaction gave the impression I'd assaulted an intrinsic facet of his very Hungarian-ness.

I attended a symphony concert in a warm, peaceful auditorium. The music was sublime. And between movements, the audience released its pent-up coughing. Each time, the racket was appalling, like a humongous tuberculosis ward. It continues to ring in my ear. Budapest is like a 90 year old with a very bad cough.

Do I look forward to my return to America, with its vibrant good health, efficiency and optimism? To a modern, staunchly unsubtle society with no suffocating drapery in sight? To a place that's the very antithesis of "heavy", where friends converse in stultifying trite sound bites and eat salad, and where "grease" and "sarcasm" are dirty words?

Nope. The search continues for a place with depth but without dreariness. "Good heavy" but not "bad heavy". Hopefully the two aren't inextricably intertwined...

Zimbabwe Is Dying

You knew things were bad in Zimbabwe. But did you know they were this bad?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cheap Flights Within Europe is a great site for booking ultra-discounted air travel within Europe. 

One note: if a promised fare doesn't appear when you try to select flights, just go to the site for the airline listed as offering the fare, and you'll usually find the promised fare available that way (SKYScanner is better at scanning than at the nitty-gritty of flight selection).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2, I described a meeting I'd had in the summer of 2005 with a powerful media exec who'd appeared out of the blue to invite me to dinnner. Unknown to him, or to anyone else besides Bob Okumura, Chowhound's co-founder, we were weeks away from pulling the plug on the bloodsucking but phenomenally useful web site we'd created eight years prior. I learned at this meeting that measures we'd taken to reduce traffic after the 2000 collapse of online advertising had caused us to narrowly miss traffic levels worth upwards of $35,000/week in Google AdSense income.

The other surprising thing explained to me that night was the significance of Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of MySpace two weeks prior. Murdoch had paid a breathtaking, economic-bailout-ish sum of cash for the company, and, as a result, investors, ever-twitchy, were suddenly all hot and bothered about online communities. Everyone was convinced this was the next big thing.

Dad always told me that if you keep your most unstylish clothes in the back of the closet long enough, they'll eventually come back into fashion. I'm still crossing fingers for those nehru jackets, but in Chowhound's case it proved true. Five years after the previous bubble had burst - an eternity in Internet time - our sort of operation was "hot". We were part of a movement with a name I'd not heard before: "Web 2.0". That is, we were a data-rich site built upon user-generated content. I'd run online forums since the mid 1980's, but was late in hearing about this exciting new Web 2.0 phenomenon that we were apparently a part of. I was, in other words, hopelessly stuck in the past yet brilliantly cutting-edge. My head spun if I thought about it too hard.

So: we were a hop, skip, and traffic jump from $35,000/week, plus, as the best-known and most popular online food forum, we were about to become a hot property among investors. We were at the leading edge of an impending second dotcom bubble. Who knew? 

Uncareful readers might assume I received this information with glee; that I strode reenergized from the restaurant with lofty plans to leverage this change of fate. A path had appeared for Chowhound to survive, even thrive, and for me to escape financial ruin, just so long as I redoubled my efforts, swapped in a new infrastructure, guerilla marketed like crazy, and put on a dog and pony show for The Suits. Fantastic news, right?

Well, not exactly. Listen, it's not that I'm lethargic. After all, I'd soldiered on with Chowhound for many years, nurturing something from nothing - no budget, no resources, no marketing, no infrastructure, no office, no paid employees, no salary...nothing but raw enthusiasm. But at this point, I was mired up to my teeth with the day-to-day taskload of running the thing. The prospect of keeping everything rolling while also revamping infrastructure (to foster the traffic that would bring in serious income) and taking time to shmooze investors was unthinkable.

So even if my batteries could somehow be magically recharged, I was at the end of the line. Here's a hard-won lesson: it's extremely easy to talk about implementing initiatives. In fact, there are phalanxes of pricey consultants - who've never actually built anything, themselves - whose job it is to yabber helpfully about The Things You Ought To Start Doing. But talk's cheap, whereas actually building stuff is hard.

There are two main reasons why building stuff is harder than you'd think: First, most capable people are pretty maxed out doing whatever they already do, so there's little marginal time or energy to pour into big new initiatives. Second, while a great idea is a nice thing, there's vastly more devil in the details than you'd imagine. "Get some ads!" "Talk to some venture capitalists!" "Upgrade your software!" "Move to a cheaper serving company!" All these suggestions spill easily off the tongue, but it's the dark matter - the hidden complications and expenses, the unintended consequences, and the black swans - that gets you. Pushing through the swamps, time sinks, and aggravations, all above and beyond preexisting commitments, requires nearly superhuman resolve. People who lack experience building things always vastly underestimate this dark matter, and that's what execution is all about.

This explains why CEO's get paid so ridiculously well...and why so many people are so mystified by their pay scale. Everyone's a genius at sideline quarterbacking, but only a very few human beings have the competence, the stamina, and the cojones to navigate the miasmas and wrestle into existence something successful. I'd built something successful - against long odds, in retrospect - but found myself massively overwhelmed by the monster I'd created. Sure, I could drop a few balls - let responsibilities slide while I cultivated The Money Guys. But because too much rested on my shoulders, this would make Chowhound begin to suck. And Chowhound sucking would devalue vast effort. I mean...if I valued money over not sucking, then what was that previous painful decade about?* No, I'd close Chowhound rather than let it suck.

* - For more on honoring past idealism, see The Precedent of Muffin Refusal.

(Running a site like Chowhound is like gardening, in that keeping it up requires the deflection of all sorts of entropy. For example, the raw, unmediated state of Internet conversation is angry, commercial, digressive, and idiotic. Chowhound was a success because a dedicated crew worked diligently, nearly 24/7, to stave off that particular entropy. The result was a polished oasis, which self-reinforced by attracting great, discerning users - folks who valued intelligence, authenticity, and focus. If Chowhound were permitted to suck, even just a little, the spell would be broken, finicky experts would leave in droves, and in would flood the Olive Garden People, who, no longer intimidated by the high prevalent savvy, would let loose en masse with ditzy opinions. Entropy would jeopardize the precious climate of passionate expertise that made our data irresistible. The essential issue - the issue that kept me glued in front of my computer for most of a decade - is that entropy can't be undone. When online communities degrade, they do so irreversibly.)

Really, closing still sounded awfully good to me. I yearned to return to writing and to music; managing web sites was never my life goal, and I was toasted to a crisp. So I listened politely to my media honcho dinner companion, waiting, patiently, to hear why, exactly, he'd deigned to swoop down and make my acquaintance. He clearly was not there for the food...

Read the next installment (#4)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Geese Ingestion, Hologram World

Shortly before US Airways flight 1549 "ingested" a flock of geese, I was ingesting a very delicious roast goose leg here. Not to make light or anything. I'm just saying...

In other news, mysterious banging in a corrugated shed in Germany may indicate that
the world is a giant hologram.

Letter of Last Resort

Check out this odd article in Slate about the "Letter of Last Resort", a doomsday verdict from the British prime minister instructing his country's nuclear subs, in the event of a nuclear apocalypse devastating Britain, to either annihilate back or just sort of let it slide. The rationale for the latter would be that killing tens of millions more civilians - i.e. the guys on the other side - might be the beyond-the-pale kind of mass murder (as opposed to more garden variety sorts of wartime mass murder).

The money quote is from Denis Healey, former defense secretary to Labor PM Harold Wilson, who'd choose "letting it go":
"I would find it very, very difficult indeed to agree to use a nuclear weapon—and I think most people would."
That's admirable. To many people, it might sound like crazy talk; and, for reasons well-articulated by the article's writer, a dangerous attitude to put out there regardless of actual policy. But can someone walk back Mr. Healey through less horrific weapons which cause slightly lower kill tallies, and determine at which point civilian death tallies become acceptable in revenge attacks? 

I mean, if you're going to take an ethical stand, that's fantastic. But once you do - once you concede that death is worth avoiding on the basis of its sheer moral repugnance - doesn't the floor drop out from under any hawk-ish stance at all? An alarming prospect indeed for those who don't take deadly carnage lightly.

WSJ on Scooter Libby

A few days ago I recommended Vanity Fair's piece on the Bush presidency, Here's a remarkable Wall Street Journal editorial, mostly about the Scooter Libby pardon, which presents, um, a different picture. Some excerpts:
"If Iraq fails, history will mark down the Bush presidency. If by fits and starts Iraq grows into the Middle East's first large, functioning democratic republic, a more likely result, the Bush presidency will be one of the great building blocks of the new century's political order."
"The Bush team righted itself and assembled a tough response to the attack: the assault on the terror strongholds of Afghanistan and the Patriot Act. Then, in astonishingly short order, the political unity of 9/11 dissolved. Mr. Bush and his team found themselves embattled by the opposition party, much of the Beltway press corps and a leaking national-security bureaucracy. The goal of the domestic opposition was to thwart the Bush antiterror policy, or take down the people shaping it."
"In my many years of writing about Washington's politics, I thought that the Plame affair, its long, mad hunt for the leaker, and then the Libby trial, was one of the most fantastic, preposterous events I've ever watched."
"Yes, a pardon would set the anti-Bush chorus to howling. So? They've done plenty to turn the city into a viper's nest."

It's almost quaint to see someone still plowing these fields, no? The utter irrelevance of this bizarre clinging elicits a pang of genuine nostalgia, sort of like how I felt when I saw old people in Galicia still dressing up in their finest on Franco's birthday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Frank Zappa Cafe (sic)

I'm staying two blocks from a place called the Frank Zappa Cafe here in Budapest. Having been a Zappa fan since high school, I've been in such a trembling state of awe and excitement that I waited a few days before making my first pilgrimage, to be certain I was fully primed for the head rush. One part of the overall superior culturedness of Eastern and Central Europe is the fact that there's always been a strong undercurrent of Zappa fans here. And Hungary is somewhat outside the reach of most intellectual property actions, hence the continued existence of this Cafe in spite of Frank's widow's notorious tightness with the trademark.

Well, it's 11pm, and I just walked over. The well-lit room was filled with well-groomed yuppie couples sitting at nice blonde wood tables. Some music was playing over the sound system, too soft and too tinny to identify (though it may well have been Zappa). No jukebox full of bootlegs, no Zappa connection whatsoever aside from a pretty poor mural of the original Mothers of Invention painted on an interior wall, which I imagined to be decorated with potted ferns.

I headed to the bar, were the vacant-eyed server told me to sit at the tables, because the bar, with three stools, isn't "nice". So I sat down at a large table table for four, reached for what I assumed to be the drinks menu, and found myself staring, instead, at a shiny card listing peppy-sounding Bailey's-branded drinks. Because, after all, what says Frank Zappa like a Bailey's Latte?

I fled, and am still rattled and traumatized as I write this.

Singapore's Last Rural Village

Incredibly sad article about the last bit of rural space in Singapore, currently on the verge of being paved over.

New Words

In searching for a synonym for "conciliatory" in order to improve the Slog's clunky tagline (above), I discovered that there really is no apt synonym. The nearest the language comes are powerless, aggrieved terms like 'compromising', 'placatory', 'appeasing', 'pacifying' or 'mollifying'. These words evoke hen-pecked husbands and Neville Chamberlain. If there's no word for it, what hope is there?

Here are some new terms I've whipped up, for starters:

Unisan: opposite of partisan
Concurrent (noun): opposite of dissident
Zionlest: a non-Zionist Jew
Neo Christian: a devout Christian who follows the principles of love, tolerance, and stewardship of the Earth

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House

Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House, a long piece in the new issue of Vanity Fair, very thoroughly runs through a litany of controversial (and just plain ignorant or sinister) actions of the Bush administration, with high level administration figures contributing startlingly frank commentaries about why and how it all happened. It's eye-opening even if you kept up with events as they unfolded. And it's jaw-dropping, even if you thought you couldn't be more appalled.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Greetings from Budapest


Budapest, I was assured, is no colder than New York City in the winter. Usually. Except every five or six years, when Budapest is as cold as Warsaw. Well, guess which kind of winter I'm enjoying, here on lovely Gresczeszenczesbrushszesmezo Utca where I sit attempting to digest nineteen pounds of rich creamy pastry?

Ever since a traumatic night at University of Rochester that was so freezing I've never entirely warmed up, I've had a thing about being cold. It's partly psychological. I learned something that long-ago night about Cold that a person is not supposed to grok until advanced old age. I won't pass on the insight, as it's downright crippling. But in spite of aggressive countermeasures ranging from grad school in sunny Miami to frequent thirty minute sweat-outs in health club steam rooms to a drawerful of thermal underwear, I endure winter chills with frigid fraughtness.

The standard defense - aggressive layering of protective gear - leaves one sweaty and miserable, dreading transitions to indoor settings, and yet still, in key body places, cold. But finally, after decades, I've found the answer. As I stride down wind-swept Hungarian streets, late at night in single-digit weather, I laugh at the cold. I've beat this thing. Here's how I managed it:

Obviously, there's got to be a sweater or sweatshirt under the top coat. Those who simply throw a coat over their shirted torsos deserve to suffer. But, beyond that, I'm packing three add-ons, none particularly ingenious or creative. No gadgets or gizmos, just a certain optimal and harmonious combination of age-old solutions. It required spending a bit more than I'm ordinarily comfortable with, but the return on my investment has been mammoth (in the woolly sense).

Gorgonz Ear-Grips Ear Warmers (in this case relabeled "EarPros") keep ears warm-not-hot without crushing them or matting hair (you wear them behind the head, not over the top). Their size and angle is perfect. They are adjustable, though you must figure that out on your own (the things don't come with an owner's manual). These ear warmers absolutely rock. So much better than alternatives. Here's a differently branded version of the same product.

I've never been the type to buy or wear $45 gloves. But then again, I've previously been the type to shiver miserably on cold days. J Crew's
leather cashmere-lined gloves offer instant-on warmth. No need to huff in to preheat the finger holes. Cold digits never languish coldly. These things are toasters. If you feel too non-yuppie to don cashmere-lined gloves, you clearly have not frozen your ass off sufficiently. Go out into the winter and come back when you're serious - prepared to fully fight frigidity.

Finally, an oversized cashmere scarf. Yes, it's a bit Mr.-And-Mrs.-Howell-ian to garb oneself in multiple iterations of pricey cashmere. But scarfs are on deep sales right now. And between the gloves, the scarf, and the earmuffs (plus a prudent sweater or sweatshirt), you will be untouchable. You will be unaffected by howling sub-freezing winds, yet neither will you wind up an over-swaddled sweaty mess. I look and feel completely composed upon unwrapping in warm cafes (only the foggy eyeglasses give me away). I am astronaut-like in my seamless transition to and from an alien and menacing environment. I've nailed it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Now With Even More Conciliation....

FWIW, I've rewritten and beefed up my entry on "The Route of Escalating Conciliation". You know, the one with the shmancy graphic.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The First iPhone Musical Instrument

Turn your iPhone into an ocarina for, naturally, 99 cents. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

Maddoff: Rotten as Well as Filthy

The Bernard Maddoff scandal didn't shock me. Ponzi schemes go way back, and they'll be with us forever. Regarding the dynamics of this particular case, J.K. Galbraith nailed it when he wrote, years ago, of the tendency to confuse good manners and good tailoring with integrity and intelligence (thanks, Economist). Maddoff made hay with his reputation, but I've known people - been people - with reputation for certain expertise, and noticed that there are no rigorous sanctioning bodies for such things. The reputation-making system can be played (see this Slog entry where I speculate that I could have invented every restaurant in my first book and garnered the same good reviews). In fact, the foundational credo of Chowhound is that one mustn't trust so-called authorities, who are so often naked emperors. Better to go out and do one's own diligence. A skeptical, intrepid attitude helps a person avoid Ponzi schemes as well as bad pizza.

My take was that Maddoff was, at some point, a guy too proud to admit that his vaunted fund was sinking, and who went Ponzi to keep up appearances. This is how many Ponzi schemes come to be, when managers scramble to hide apparent losses under new money as a temporary measure until luck improves and tides turn. It can't work - it never works - but desperate people and shnooks sometimes try. I figured Maddoff had gotten sucked in, and figured he could keep the wheels turning he nearly did. It wasn't villainous greed or a heart full of larceny so much as an egotistical need to save face and remain The Great Maddoff: big shot, at any expense. I guess the baleful tone of Maddoff's reported confession led me to this interpretation.

this shocked me. Apparently, when it was all over, and his friends knew they'd lost their life savings and dozens of charities (some of whose boards Maddoff sat on) had gone bust, he was desperately scribbling out $173 million in checks to family members. If the guy had a mustache, he'd have twirled it.

Doc Martin

Since my IT Crowd tip seemed to be a hit, I'll hip you to my favorite current British TV series: Doc Martin (better link: its Wikipedia entry).

The set-up is this: a snooty hotshot London surgeon, likely with a touch of Aspergers, to boot, develops a mortal phobia about blood. Quits his position and takes up residence as the GP for a little village in northern coastal England, complete with his Lexus. Cultural clashes ensue. It's hysterical and touching and very very well acted and produced (beautiful photography of the charming village, as well).

Watch the first episode on Amazon for just $1.99 (c'mon, you trust me enough to blow two bucks, no?). You can see the whole first season for $10...and Amazon lets you download to your computer or to TIVO.

If you get hooked, you'll need to buy DVDs for season two and season three (or get the complete set) from UK Amazon. I'll do a whole entry on UK Amazon sometime soon, but the thing to know is that they don't charge VAT tax on foreign orders, and this discount wipes out much of the shipping cost (which is non-drastic, anyway). I love UK Amazon.

Note that these are PAL, region 2 DVDs, however, which won't play on most DVD players. There are, however, a couple of workarounds).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

lyGO Visual Search

lyGO Visual Search is a new(?) search engine, still in beta, which delivers images of home pages rather than the usual texty search results.

People who like to do things visually will love it, and it's also useful when trying to re-find a site you once visited; it's easy enough to pick out the thumbnail-sized image of the home page.

Three Google Complaints

1. Google has gotten a lot more annoying helpful about offering search results from other grammatical forms of search terms. So if you're searching for, say, coffee pudding creamy, you'll have to pick through lots of search results with cream rather than creamy. The counterintuitive-to-anyone-but-a-total-geek solution: put quotes around single words where you figure Google may be inclined to be annoying helpful. E.g. coffee pudding "creamy".

Even more intrusive...I own Livewire ear buds (manna for musicians struggling to hear each other onstage), and searching for livewire yielded just as many results containing live wire as livewire. Putting quotes around "livewire" fixed it.

2. A few days ago I achieved a web searching miracle and ferreted out the English language web site of a Budapest tailor who can darn holes in wool. That may sound prosaic to you, but darning is a "lost art" in America. About a half dozen ancient ladies (they're all women) nationwide still remember how to reweave sweater holes and such, and they charge up the wazoo and boast impossibly long waiting lists. I figured there might be more such holdout craftsmen in Budapest - where I'm headed next week to try to score music gigs - and, unsurprisingly, Hungarian seamstresses tend not to have slick Web presences. If they do have web sites, they wouldn't imaginably include English translations. But: I found one! And now I can't find it again, because, like the 850,000 or so disappeared search results for "Bag of Hurt", it's been purged from Google's corpus.

Bag of Hurt has dropped further, to 145,000.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Climbing Ladders

Before committing yourself to climbing a ladder, it's essential to evaluate the top rung with great clear-eyed care. But almost no one ever does. In fact, I had to be taught this lesson twice.

I just fell into being a musician. I'd always been singled out for my musical talent in school, and it's easy for a kid to find himself identifying with the activity which yields the greatest academic and social success. After graduation, sheer inertia propelled me into a musical career, and it went well. Yes, I never made a lot of money, but I'd learned the trick of low overhead. Yes, I found my colleagues two-faced and cutthroat, but I recognized that it's the same in any competitive milieu. And yes, I battled with bandleaders, club-owners, and other authority figures and gatekeepers, but I recognized that this is inevitable for anyone who's creative - who insists on unpredictability. Art, if you do it right, must involve coloring outside the lines. There was a lot to love: the travel, the cultural diversity, the non-monotony, and, most of all, the satisfaction of occsaionally letting loose with unexpected beauty.

But while I loved playing music, the fabric of my life as a musician felt deeply frustrating. Ten years into my career, a jolt of clarity revealed my situation in stark terms: I was spending all my time and energy trying to persuade clueless bandleaders to hire me to play unsatisfying music with their lousy bands for pathetic pay. And while such a scenario was tolerable for a 20 year old, at 30 it had begun to rankle. So I turned pragmatic, and tried to compile a list of bandleaders I respected, whose music would satisfy, and who'd pay decently. I could think of no one.

I'd spent the previous decade a hostage to the whims of my teenaged self*, never considering what success would constitute, and whether I'd want it if I found it. Soberly surveying my situation, it was clear there was nothing for me. At least, not in being a sideman - a hired gun. One alternative would have been to become a bandleader. The prospect of stardom might seem an alluring draw, but it's an abstract notion. Stardom is an outward projection, with little to do with one's personal feelings or the fabric of one'sf day-to-day life. When vetting a ladder's top rung, the searchlight needs to be tightly focused on one's self, rather than on gloriously overblown appearances.

So I vetted. I recalled having played the European jazz festival circuit with saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, where I ran into singer/pianist Mose Allison, a jazz star, in a hotel elevator. We chitchatted, I asked where he's from. Surprisingly, I discovered that he lived minutes away from me. So I asked why I never saw him out playing in local clubs. He replied that he gets paid a great sum of money to play in New York City precisely twice per year, and, as part of his contract, he's barred from diluting his scarcity by showing his face at other times. Same for San Francisco, London, and Tokyo. Like a shark, he must endlessly keep moving.

What's more, I knew that those big, spotlit performances were high-pressure, distraction-filled affairs - the antithesis of the intimate conditions in which jazz was born and in which it still flourishes. At the time, Illinois Jacquet was granting me exactly eight bars per night to improvise a solo - to play my heart out for about fifteen seconds. Even as a mere sideman, my impossibly focused window of opportunity showed me what pressure was like.

Factor in to that pressure the rigors of touring. We'd often return to hotels
too late to catch dinner, then travel at dawn, usually in cramped transportation, then linger forever at afternoon sound checks, and, finally, at the gig, our faceless audience would be a million miles away across a vast stage, and the musicians would be unable to hear each other (the soundman's invariably a whacked-out kid in a heavy metal t-shirt who knows nothing about jazz). I'd find myself in front of 3000 people in the open air in Stockholm or Nice, feeling sleepy, hungry, jet-lagged, and generally pissed off, and, hey, it's time for my little solo! My life is a numb blur, and I can barely hear the rhythm section. Am I going to dig down deep and play spontaneously - real improvisation, which involves risk-taking - or am I just going to play what I know "gets over"?

Well, ok. I took risks. Couldn't help it. But I can't say it was my best playing, or that I'd enjoyed it much, because those were not optimal conditions. They are what sidemen think of as money conditions. And money conditions are where you live once you've reached a high rung on the ladder. Plus, factor in all the bullshit and politics a bandleader must endure to score work at that rarified (financial) level. I hadn't even begun to taste any of that.

So what are optimal conditions? Playing late at night in a black bar in Jamaica Queens near the airport for fifty bucks with old guys who'd appeared on classic recordings but had faded from the scene yet still plied their trade masterfully in front of a rowdy, soulful little crowd whose attention wandered just enough to let you take crazy chances without being called out when risks didn't pan out. Mose Allison hadn't had such an experience in decades. He had "success" and "stardom", but he lived a life I'd never want. I saved myself another painful decade and chose not to become a bandleader.

So I moved more into writing. I'd been doing a column for a small newspaper with a big readership (NY Press, back when it was good), and contributing to some 'zines, and had a presence online back before there was a Web. Eventually, I was working freelance for shiny publications (Wine & Spirits, Time Out, etc), a column for Newsday, and finding that I was something of an up-and-comer on the food writing ladder. Finally, Daniel Young's Daily News restaurant review column (the "Under $25" equivalent) opened up, and I was invited to apply. I submitted samples, endured long meetings, and finally was summoned into the editor's office for the big news: "Congrats, you got the job!" The pay? "$250/week for two pieces, plus an occasional longer feature!" Expenses? "Take 'em out of the $250/week!"

Ah, the big time. Worst of all, I'd be hemmed in, forced to color very much within the lines, writing in short form for the most mainstream of mainstream publications, unable to presume any knowledge at all among my readers. I'd be forced to carefully define terms such as "ceviche" or "XO sauce" each time I used them...into perpetuity. Meddling, twitchy editors. Even well paid, a few years of this would wear me down.

I turned down the work (telling the editor I'd gone with a better offer, squeegeeing windows on the Bowery) and mostly withdrew from the freelance writing world (opting to reign in cyber-Hell rather than serve in mainstream media Heaven). I'd eked my way into the rarified heights, but didn't like the smell. For the second time, I'd climbed a ladder without considering whether the top rung was what I truly wanted.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with goalless horizontal movement through life, for those who lack the relentless ambition to climb ladders. In fact, for some people, including most artists, that works best! Ambition is slavery to an agenda. If you can be truly free and spontaneous, never looking before you leap, but diligent about lavishing care and love on all that you do (that's key!), the future will take care of long as you relinquish all preconceptions about that future. The problem is that Bohemianism can lose its appeal with age. While an unshaven nineteen-year-old with blazing eyes in a basement studio apartment comes off as a romantic firebrand, at age forty-five, the image is quite different indeed.

Most of us are at least somewhat ambitious. Yet, amazingly, we rarely stop to consider whether the position we aspire to is what we truly want. Barack Obama
wept last week as he locked up his house in Chicago, and it wasn't mere sentimentality. He's not a sentimental dude.

Caveat: Equal peril lurks in over-thinking decisions and goals. There is, after all, no action that can't be ruled out via sufficient deliberation. In times of confusion or torpor, it's better to follow gut instincts rather than cool analysis, because even ill-considered action toward undesirable goals can be preferable to paralysis. But one does need to be careful about those multi-year slogs...

* - Kids ought to show at least some consideration for their elder selves, and not hostage them irretrievably to youthful ideals and aspirations. You can always remove a tattoo with lasers, but other marks are more enduringly etched. Bohemianism works best with a backup plan.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Tagline

Any thoughts on the new tagline (see header)?

As I wrote
here, "the problem with versatility is eventually pisses off all parties." And since this unusually free-wheeling Slog lacks an obvious organizing principle, it needs an unvarying framework to contain the wide variation. 

I'm not crazy about Rabid Conciliation, though. Obviously it's a play on "rabid partisanship", but I'm not sure it works. "Rabid Conciliatoriness" would make more sense, but words like that get you beat up on the playground.

Cheese Degrees

Check out all these cool cheese courses at Manhattan's Murray's Cheese Shop

I'm wondering whether the $495 "Cheese Boot Camp" includes a few sessions of chelation therapy....

Saturday, January 3, 2009


If intuition were real, then it would, of course, be evolutionarily adaptive. After all, a sixth sense of what's coming next is at least as conducive to survival as any of the five conventional senses.

But the problem is that it's extraordinarily squishy to try to study intuition in a laboratory. Unlike vision or hearing, it's not an always-on faculty, and it's triggered in a fuzzy way by emotions and contexts not easily simulated in sterile conditions. But there is empirical evidence to be found in our hard-wired reaction to the intuitions of others.

Imagine a group traveling on an important mission. They're lost, and unsure how to proceed at a fork in the road. One person pipes up: "I think we should go left." It's stated in a slightly blurry way, with eyes lifted upward and to the side, facial muscles relaxed, giving an impression of distant focus. It's easy to imagine a brief silence, and the group proceeding to the left, isn't it? No one would ask how the fellow knew this; it's clearly understood that he spoke from intuition.

Now replay that scene in your mind, with a slight change. Someone says "I think we should go left, " but it's stated in a direct, conversational manner, facial muscles engaged, and eyes alert and focused on the others. Isn't it likely he'll be argued with, or at least questioned as to his reasoning (and be summarily disregarded if unable to account for the suggestion)?

We have innate detectors for discerning an intuitive basis for statements from others. What's more, we have a strong impulse to value and to act upon suggestions we deem to have stemmed from intuition. Both are adaptive behaviors - but only if intuition, over long human experience, has yielded good results.

None of us has the ability to be intuitive all the time, but we are all strongly influenced by intuitive information from those around us. Why would we have developed the finely tuned ability to detect intuition, and the impulse to act on it, unless intuitive information was, more often than not, worthwhile?

For that matter, isn't it a kind of intuition that allows you to mentally play out the above scenarios, with some sense of confidence in the truthfulness of the projected outcome? Or, if you lacked sufficient intution to play it out in your mind, isn't it interesting that my account rings somehow true and convincing...because you've resonated with my intuition on this?

Or is my intuition off, and you're not buying it at all?

Friday, January 2, 2009

The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd, a British sitcom, is so unnvervingly funny that I just paused episode one after like three minutes to rush here and insist that you view it immediately. The season 1 DVD doesn't come out till March in America, but you could always preorder...or order a boxed set of both season 1 and season 2 from Amazon UK (they're five hours ahead on the clock, but apparently several years ahead on the TV dial) for just 12 pounds - 10.42 once they drop the VAT for the international order. That's an irresistible fifteen bucks American.

You can also watch a bunch more on the Web, but anything I like this much, I definitely want to pay for. Support the creators, hopefully encourage more of same, and treasure on my shelf.

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