Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tale of Two Tablets, two stores, and two sides of town.

OK, so here's the premise... in my typical fashion, two weeks ago I told my friends I was starting to research which Tablet Computer is the best choice for Christmas 2011, and I was going to go down to the two flagship showrooms and grill the professional sales force, and report back with some definitive insights. So after a few quick searches, and a few articles, I finally (two weeks later) headed down get the hands on experience.

Now just for historical context...
It is now 2011... the eve of 2012. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th. This year was the 100th birthday of the New York Public Library. The two southern entrances of Central Park had long since been established... Grand Army Plaza on the East and Columbus Circle on the West.

Two years ago, the media announced the final demise of the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) and since then virtually everybody has switched over to a High Definition Flat Screen.

Steve Jobs died this year.

The first iPod was released 10 years ago.

Born the 60's, coming of age in the 70's, I saw the hippies, the punks, the grunge, the hipsters, disco, hip hop... I spent HOURS as a kid playing Pinball... mastering the nuance of my favorite machines. (Paragon... Fireball... FirePower... ) I saw the first video games EVER... Pong, Texas Shoot Out, Sea Wolf, Space Wars, Space Invaders, Asteroids, etc etc etc.

I owned an Apple ][ computer, with TWO floppy drives (the old 5.25 inch vinyl disks, and I'd cut a notch w/ a toe nail clipper so I could flip them over and use the other side). The two Steves were legends... Jobs and Wosniak, Wosniak being the ACTUAL genius, the other soon to be forgotten to history as the "smoke and mirrors" guy. (ok, so much for predictions)

BTW: that Apple ][ went for about $1300... not including a monitor. We just used an old TV.

But I digress... here we are 2011. Eve of 2012. Christmas is 11 days away. This is the year of the Tablet.

I was once actually PAID good money to be an early adopter. Advertising execs hired me (via their IT department) to poke around on the latest gadgets and report back to them. Long since I've been out of that game. I'm practically AMISH these days. I wait until tech is stable, then wait two more generations until it comes down in price... then I make the purchase. Well welcome to 2011 (eve of 2012).

So right now there are two stable products in direct competition. No other tablets are really relevant... and as we will see, even one of these is hardly relevant. The two contenders are the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2.

Cut to the chase... bottom line... Reader's Digest version...
... just pick one, buy it, and enjoy. Both products are essentially equivalent in functionality, in user experience, and in price. There is no WRONG choice here.

Want the nitty gritty... here's the chart and a decent article.
Galaxy 10.1 vs iPad2

So to cover the main concerns, if you want to chose between the two, only a few things matter.

BOTH are slim, light weight, and AMAZINGLY cool.
BOTH show movies in HD, photos, music, news, etc.
BOTH have BEAUTIFUL graphics displays.
BOTH now let you zoom in and out w/ your thumb and index finger in a "pinch" motion.
BOTH give that cool "flip of the finger" motion to scroll from page to page, including the nuance where if you flip faster, you will scroll faster and see "virtual momentum".
BOTH will take a day or two to get used to, a week or two to get the nuance, and inside a month you will probably have it down to second nature
BOTH go for between $500-$700

The hardware differences are VAST, yet from the end user's point of view, completely minimal. Does anybody really care??? The REAL difference is the Operating System. (iPad is 7 grams heavier... yes, the weight of seven paper clips... yet is about 1/8 inch slimmer. You GET me?)

So let's talk about quickly about Apple's image... and hypocrisy.
Let's just start with this, shall we?
Apple's 1984 commercial.
From DAY ONE, Apple kept tight control on their proprietary rights. Fair enough. They invented stuff, they want to OWN that stuff, and monetize that stuff. Let's ignore for one second that they actually STOLE the graphics user interface from Xerox (literally while the boss was out of the office, and a lackey let them in, and they downloaded the entire Xerox library of code). So how is it that this corporation who fiercely protects its proprietary rights and is attempting to dominate the marketplace... how are they seen as "raging against the machine"???

While Apple was building the Macintosh, there was already an "open source" community that was actually offering alternatives to the establishment. In fact IBM's first computers, and what is TO THIS DAY considered to be the "Windows Platform" is in really an open system. Apple IS the machine against which they are raging.

OK, this is getting far to long. Let me get to the main point, and describe my experience today.

Came out of the subway at Columbus Circle. The South West Entrance to Central Park. The statue of Christopher Columbus standing here since 1892, and the monument to The Maine (remember The Maine) since 1911. The Time Warner Center has been here for a decade, replacing the old New York Colosseum. I walk in the big main entrance, go upstairs two escalator flights up (paste the now defunked Boarders Bookstore... talk about irony)... up to the Samsung Flagship Showroom. It's BEAUTIFUL. Glass walls looking out over Columbus Circle and Central Park... tables set up w/ the tablets, sections on the side with the new Flat Screens, Laptops, Home Theater Systems...

Three freak/nerds at the main doorway to welcome me in. All wearing the nice Samsung clothes, ties on the gentlemen... but the tattoos and matted thick hair and unshaven faces gave away their freakish nature. (all good... I'm FINE with that). I should have stopped right there and stated my case... "I'm here too look at your Galaxy 10.1, ask a few questions, and then head across town to the Apple Store... now SELL ME your product !!!"

Nah, I walked by them, and headed to the table and poked around on the several Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets that were on display. Spent a good 10 or 15 minutes getting a good idea of what was there. Mind you, I don't have Android ANYTHING right now... so I'm completely naive. Was able to pull up videos, pictures, web... found my OWN YouTube vids... assumed FB would work (didn't want to punch in my FB password on the demo unit).

Now here's what I want to talk about... this is THE FLAGSHIP STORE... at Columbus Circle, NYC... looking over Central Park... just upstairs is Jazz at Lincoln Center. This is the BIG TIME.

So I look around the store... not a lot of customers there. Mostly Euro-tourists. Some kids poking around on the Tablets or checking out the Home Theaters. No hustle, no bustle. The few workers (besides the nerds at the door) were more interested in surfing the web, or checking their FB accounts.

I looked over at the Samsung rep next to me, he was about 19 years old, native New Yorker from The Barrio... he didn't acknowledge my presence, was just poking around on a tablet. So I said "Can I ask you a few questions? First of all is the easy one... I'm thinking about buying a few of these for my family, but next I'm going across town to the Apple Store. Why should I buy the Galaxy instead of the iPad?"

OK, softball... should have a list of 10 reasons at the tip of his tongue. He was clueless. "Uh... do you like Android?" I said, "I don't know... I don't use Android." "Uh, well, if you like Android, well this runs Android... other than that... well, they're kind of the same."

DAMN KID... at least give me the sales pitch.

So I say "I have a camera in my pocket... I just shot a few pictures outside. Can you show me how to put them on this tablet?"

He said "Uh, we don't have a cable that connects to your camera. I think you have to go through a web site or something."

I repeated "Or something? Really?"

He said, "Yeah, maybe something like Snapfish."

OK, so he's useless. I pull over the Asian kid. I ask the same question. He's FAR more knowledgeable... which isn't really saying much. He said, if you plug this into your home computer with the USB cable, you can just drag and drop your pictures into the picture folder."

I said, "So it just mounts like an external hard drive? Doesn't launch some sort of iTunes app? I can just drag and drop? I like that... can you SHOW ME THAT?!?"

He says, "What do you mean?" I say, "well can you plug this tablet into a computer that's running Windows 7, and show me that it mounts like an external hard drive, doesn't launch some proprietary app, and lets me drag and drop files?"

He says, "Uh, well this unit is connected by a security device. And besides, we'd need a computer to show that."

I say, "Yeah, but this is a really basic feature. This is your main show room... in Columbus Circle... in New York City. In fact right there is a whole section of Samsung laptop computers on display. Can't you show me how you can connect this tablet to one of those computers, and move files to it?"

Him, "Uh, let me see." Talks to security guy... like this never ever came up before. They break out the special key, unhook the device, and we walk over to the laptop section. Unfortunately, the security device USB cable isn't standard, so he has to go into the back room to find a USB cable.

Meanwhile, one of the (apparently) main nerds who was manning the front door (remember the freak/nerds who welcomed me?) comes over because clearly something weird was going on. He seemed sort of flabbergasted that this guy left an unsecured tablet in front of me, while he went into the back room to look for a cable... he grabbed the tablet and held it until the guy came back from the back room. So twenty minutes in, I got to see that a Galaxy Tab running Android (Honeycomb 3.1) does mount as a hard drive and lets you drag and drop files. NICE! I like that !!! How about THEM Apples ?!? :-)

Next two questions, them I'm outta here. "Can I use this as a GPS?" "Sure, if you get the 3G version." "But under no circumstances will I be paying a monthly fee... so can I use the Galaxy Tab as a GPS without a monthly fee?" Answer, mostly accurate... "No."

But here's what bugged me... I said "are you sure?" He said, "Let me check..." Did he go to a supervisor, to a Samsung Wiki, to some definitive source of information? No, he went to and typed in Galaxy Tab 10.1 GPS. For THIS I came down to the flagship store?!?

Well before I left, I stopped by the nerd/geeks at the door. Turns out I should have just started with them. They were the guys who knew the products, knew the nuance, new what was what. There IS a USB connector offered by Garman that allows your Galaxy to act as a GPS. Otherwise, even without the G3 network, if you are in a WiFi hotspot (basically anywhere in NYC) you are likely to get a damn good idea of your location... but once you're outside the city, you need 3G and a monthly contract to figure out where you are. Also discussed a bit about development (something the floor guys were CLUELESS about). You can EASILY develop on the Galaxy, with just a USB cable, or your wireless network, or the Google environment. (Again, try that on Apple)

During this whole time (almost an hour), there was not a single SALE made in this Samsung show room. Just tourists poking around, and me asking easy questions that sent up red flags.

OK, walk across town to the main Apple Store in Grand Army Plaza... the OTHER main entrance to Central Park. No views of the park from here... Apple Store is under ground, inside the big glass cube, down the spiral staircase.

WOW!!! Maybe TWO THOUSAND people bustling all around the store. People lined up in a maze of ropes waiting for... well I don't know WHAT they were on line for. Red shirted "geniuses" pre-emptively asking people "can I help you... do you have any questions?" Though it was sometimes hard to get their attention, as they seemed to be waving people over form one table to another to show them some other device. And keep in mind, there are now FOUR Apple Stores in Manhattan... Grand Army Plaza (in front of FAO Schwartz), B'Way and 65th (there abouts... upper West Side), 14th Street and 9th, and NOW Grand Central Terminal. Each one equally as bustling.

The guy next to me got the attention of a sales rep, and she pleasantly gave advice and recommendations, and promptly sold him two iPads w/ extended warranties... each coming to about $750. She disappeared for a few minutes and returned with his iPads in the boxes, and a nifty Apple shopping bag (kinda like a knapsack).

She then happily turned her attention to me. I knew I was not gonna get to plug an iPad2 into a Win 7 PC, but I asked what would happen. She assured me, all communications to the iPad2 go through iTunes. You don't get folders, it doesn't mount like a flash drive, you are always "inside" iTunes.

When I asked her how I move my pictures from my camera to the iPad, she happily asked me to wait for a minute... and returned promptly with the solution... a usb adapter that would accept my HDSD card.

As with the Galaxy, the only true GPS functionality comes with a contract and monthly fee. Unlike the Galaxy, they DON'T offer a GPS add on device.

Development? Well apparently that's a whole other story. If you want to develop for the iPad, you need to upload your apps to Apple's central brain-tank... and if they're OK with what you're doing, they will allow you to download your own app onto your own device, and see if it works. Yes this IS the machine they were RAGING AGAINST !!! Keep in mind, Apple has been known to "brick" their devices. Yes THEIR devices... even though you bought it... if they don't like what you are doing with it, they will send the sliver bullet through the air waves and turn it into a door stop.

And finally, I really need to add the final feature... FLASH. Since Steve Jobs doesn't like the content that is being delivered by some people who use FLASH technology (ahem... porn), he decided to cripple the iPad. The iPad runs FLASH perfectly... but it will ONLY run FLASH when it is streaming content from YouTube. Otherwise, FLASH will not run. You paid for the device, but HE gets to decide (from the grave) what you do with it.

So there it is. Two very similar devices. A few technical advantages for each. Mostly the exact same functionality. Galaxy runs Android, is open source, allows drag and drop, allows easy development, and allows you to run Flash and watch porn. iPad runs iOS, is proprietary, does not allow drag and drop, needs to go through Apple's central office for development, and does not run Flash except for YouTube.

Neither can run as a GPS without a monthly fee, though for a one time purchase, you can get a GPS adapter for the Galaxy.

People are CRAMMED into the Apple Store, grabbing the knowledgeable staff and making purchases hand over fist. Inventory is FLYING off the shelf. Samsung store is staffed mostly by flunkies and a few knowledgeable managers, and is mostly empty to the point where you can hear crickets chirping... no sales to be seen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Grand Central Terminal tour

Was fun and interesting, though could have been better in my opinion. The tour was sponsored by the Grand Central Development Corp (or group, our whatever they're called). They are the group who puts out the information kiosks, the garbage cans, etc etc... apparently taxes in NYC only go so far, and are not enough to cover things like Central Park, or Zuccotti Park, or to keep districts up to par... so the better connected groups can organize and make their own areas better with their "Development Corps" (or whatever they're called).

We started in the lobby (privately owned public space) of a building across the street. For almost an hour it was a lecture by the guide, with some pictures on a clipboard (just a few, like 4 or 5).

The guide was a dandy of a fellow, in a nice suite and bow tie, with a brass white rabbit on the lapel of his suite coat. I'm going out on a limb here, and guess that he's an old gay jew in his late 60s. While he was a fountain of information, he also was putting on a show. I guess that's what we tour guides do. But he can't sing, or dance... and his jokes are pretty bad. He often uses volunteers from the audience for visual aids, except that he's expressing simple concepts that don't really need a visual aide, so they end up sort of cheap ways to get audience participation for no real reason (imo). For example, hes demonstrating that the building we were in did not own the land it was resting on... they really just own the air rights, i.e. the rights to build above the land below them. So he brings up a woman, asks her to remove her glove, hold her hand out in front of her, and has several people touch her hand and asks how it feels. Not really sure what that was about, people awkwardly said "warm" and "soft"... really just a way to get a few people involved in the demo I guess... then asked what she was holding in her hand. Eventually we came to the conclusion (ok, he just said it) that she was holding hundreds of millions of dollars of air... then he started blowing air towards her hand saying "millions and millions of dollars". OK, kind of cute, got a vague smile from some people. But we didn't come here for the silly demonstrations, or to be entertained... we came here for INFORMATION. (well, I did) Honestly, there are funnier people to make you laugh, better entertainers on every street corner of Times Square... let's just stick to the stories.

But I get it, and he IS THE professional. But it reminded me of a magician... minus the magic. His big reveal was not some mind-bending illusion, but a simple fact.

That said, he did have some really interesting and enlightening facts and stories about NYC, Park Avenue, architecture in general, socio-politics, religion, business, finances, literature, etc. I just didn't need the silly visuals... they were distracting to me, and dragged the process out rather than making it more interesting. Most entertaining is the old gay dude trying to visually demonstrate how a man would make romantic gestures towards a woman. Round hole, square peg.

To a large extent it was his version of New York History, starting with a diatribe about how NYC and America at large was not a Christian nation. Now I was told, as tour guides, we should avoid religion and politics... which of course is impossible if you are talking about history and site, which are inevitably tied to religion and politics... but there are boundaries. He seemed to be proselytizing, or perhaps challenging some potential tourists from the Bible Belt (don't know if any were present)... trying to inject his New York Liberal Gay Jew paradigm. I also note, this forum was not a debate... while there were some questions and comments from the audience, it was mostly his monologue. So nobody could really challenge his assertions.

Mind you, he did have a convincing argument... and I agree with him on most of his points. I'm just not sure why this was the forum for this subject... and not sure we got the whole story.

But this was not for no reason at all, it lead into the construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral... built by those NON-Christians known as the Irish Catholics... his point being that the only official Christians in NYC were the ones who acknowledged the British Monarch as the head of the Church. Irish were NOT allowed to be buried inside the City Limits, so they built their own Cathedral out in the sprawling grassy hinterlands.

He made clear that the event includes a tour of Grand Central Terminal, but was sponsored by the consortium to bring awareness to the whole neighborhood... thus the history lesson was appropriate. The tour of GCT was cool, but by now I knew pretty much all the facts that he relayed to us. For me, it was more of a learning experience as to how a professional tour guide works. This guy literally wrote the tour guide test.

Just like my instructor (and his buddy) Lee Gelber, he's a bit out of date. For example, telling the crowd how The Hotel Pennsylvania has the most famous phone number... and goes into a little routine where he hums the tune and dances a bit, and expects the crowd to all chime in and sing Pennsylvania 6 5000. One guy (besides me) knew the lyric. Uh, everybody knows the most popular phone number is 867-5309 !!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Best Tour Ever

At about 5:45pm my dispatcher tells me he's got a charter for me. That could mean anything, but he gives me the detail sheet. Jump in a van on 8th ave in Midtown, meet the driver, head over to the Essex House on Central Park South, and pick up six passengers for a four hour tour (actually took 3 hours).

Well the six passengers were a couple in their 70's, their two kids and a spouse (in their 40's), and a couple of grand-kids (maybe 5 and 8). This is all wide open... I got the van, a driver, and my clients... so I ask, "So what do you folks have in mind?"

"Well, we just want to drive around New York, head downtown, maybe see the Statue of Liberty. I don't know, you tell us."

"OK, we can do that. So where are you from?"

After a bit of conversation, and the ice breaks, I hear from the older folks "If possible, could we maybe take a detour into Brooklyn? You see, my wife an I were both stationed here in New York City 51 years ago... over in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. I was in the Marines, she was in the Navy. We lived here in New York for two years, and we got married here... 51 years ago. We'd like to go past the place and see what's still there."

Kept my composure, and just smiled and said "Yes sir, I think we can do that for you."

Gave them the grand tour down 5th Avenue, the New York Public Library, Lord and Taylor w/ the window displays up, Cartier wrapped up like a Christmas Package... THANK YOU CHRISTMAS for coming so early !!! Pull out all my best stories, answer questions, then over the Manhattan Bridge, see the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, etc.

Then off to find the Navy Yards... not hard, it's just off Navy Street. (go figure)

"Look honey, remember... that was my post, right there. Look, that's where I stayed... where was your place. Oh yeah, right down the street, over there...WOW. OMG, such memories!!!"

Next he starts schooling me on the receiving station, the different functions going on in the different buildings... "carpentry over there, welding over there..."

He's telling me about how he and his seven buddies would go into Chinatown in Manhattan and order enough food for 20 people. How they never had to pay for a drink when they were in uniform... and how they took advantage of that fact. How they knew the bar which didn't exactly "close" but would just lock their door for an hour or so at 4am. (I said "come up to Inwood some time.")

Back through Brooklyn Heights... "Hey, that's where I had to go to get my marriage license."

Finally back to Manhattan and daughter asks for Nolita... well luckily I had done my walking tours and taken all those photos... I took them by the old Police Station (that AMAZING one), and then down some streets where we could peek into the windows and catch a glimpse the LOFT apartments done up with chandeliers and bookcases.

OK, I knew we had to go past The Intrepid (lots of oohs and ahhs), and as I'm about to take them back home, I get "My daughter wants to see the New Years Ball."

Sooo down 7th Avenue... they were amazed with the flashing lights... how it was like daylight in Times Square. The old guy tells me that he was IN Times Square on New Years Eve in the early 60's... how he (standing at 6'2") was held up by the crowds, his feet not touching the floor... just one hand on his wallet the whole time.

End of the trip, "Thanks Kevin, that was PERFECT. Thanks for bringing back some great memories."

"The pleasure was all mine. I'm glad I could be part of this experience."

Oh, and the commemorative picture of Benjamin Franklin they gave me was a nice touch. :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Maiden Voyage

Arrrgggg me laddies, come and hear the tale of me maiden voyage... and how I narrowly avoided death, and lived to tell of it.

OK, wasn't really harrowing, but it was every bit as nerve racking as I thought it might be.

I'm supposed to show up at 3:25. I showed up early, had my notes on cards on a clip board for easy reference in case I got stuck, had my mic and my tip jar, got my license on display in my neck lanyard. I walk over to the only driver and I introduce myself, and he says I MIGHT be on his next bus, or maybe the next one. I should go talk to the dispatcher. Dispatcher is a thug-life home boy working his cell phone, doesn't seem to want to pay any attention to me. Eventually I get his attention and told him I was told to show up at 3:25. He says, "OK, I'll put you on the 3:40 tour. Wait over there." That gives me a good 15 minutes.

Stage fright is at it's max... I sort of want to just walk away and say "This was a stupid idea anyway." JUST THEN I got a text, from a girl I know who likes to send inspirational messages once in a while. I haven't heard from her in six months at least... she has no idea what I'm doing. It read something like "Face your fears, do something new and exciting, be with new people today..."

Not two seconds later, the dispatcher says, "OK, I gotta use you RIGHT NOW... that's your bus."

It's already loaded w/ people. That's not supposed to happen. You're supposed to talk to them while they're standing on line, ask where they're from, how are they enjoying NYC, etc. Then you go up and test your mic, set up your tip jar, come back down and check tickets as you welcome each individual onto the bus.

Nope! I look at the preferred place to plug in the mic, at the seat near the top of the stairs... and there's nothing but a hole in the metal. So I run up to the front of the bus, as far away from the stairs as possible. Takes me almost a whole minute to get the mic chord plugged into the jack which is mounted at a weird angle. Meanwhile, the bus starts to move.

So as soon as I get a sound out of the mic, I just go for it. I channel every WWE wrestler, every Rock Star, everybody who has ever successfully worked a mic... and I just start... "Hello, and WELCOME TO NEW YORK CITY... we start today's tour in the Theater District as we head uptown... There are 40 theaters in New York City that qualify as 'Broadway Theaters'..." The notes never made it out of my backpack.

At each stop I announce, "So does anybody want to HOP OFF at the next stop..." Nobody got off the whole time. So either they liked what they were hearing, and wanted to hear more... or I wasn't selling the sites convincingly. I'm just gonna assume they liked what they were hearing.

Two hours later, after a lot of stuttering and stammering, flubbing a few facts here and there, searching for words that just didn't come... we pulled back into Time's Square. These folks got to see the Theater District, Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center, Central Park West, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia University, Riverside Church, Grant's Tomb, The George Washington Bridge, HARLEM, Museum Mile (5th Avenue along Central Park), Grand Army Plaza (lower corner of Central Park), Central Park South, Carnegie Hall, and back to Times Square.

After splitting the tips with the driver, 50/50, I had enough to buy my fruit for the week with a couple of dollars left over. I get on the schedule in a day or two and should get 3 or 4 tours in a day. Not gonna get rich, but I said all along, this is the entry level. I'll do this through the summer while I begin networking and start building a repertoire of my own walking tours. Apparently with the right marketing, and the right product, a good guide can make a very comfortable living in this city.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York Hero

Well maybe "hero" is a bit strong. But this guy is an awesome character. Yesterday I went down to the Film Forum and caught the biography on him "Bill Cunningham New York".

He's the most happy-go-lucky guy in the world. He's a fashion photographer and columnist for the New York Times. He's known for just wandering the streets of NYC all day, snapping pictures of people and spotting fashion trends. He's been at it since the late 60s.

The high end fashion world would all KILL to have their gear appear in his weekly column. They are continuously offering him HUGE sacks of cash, perks, wine/women/song... all the luxuries that so many people dream of. The kind of luxuries that go on in the upper floors and private clubs in NYC, that most mortal people just don't get to see. But he has NO DESIRE for any of that. While working the biggest and most extravagant events, he won't eat or drink anything... not so much as a glass of water. He'll eat in a deli or diner before hand... loves the $3 bacon and egg sandwiches and coffee.

It's actually kind of weird... it really is an obsession with this guy. He spends all day every day snapping photos, and editing them together for his weekly column, except for about an hour on Sundays when he goes to church. Not married, never ever dated... just had no time for any of that. Is not gay, claims he has normal physical cravings like everybody else, but just doesn't have time for romance.

For most of his career, and while they shot this movie (last year some time), he lived in Carnegie Hall. Yes, that world famous concert hall one block south of Central Park. Sounds like a pretty expensive and extravagant place to live, right?

Well at one time, Carnegie Hall had large and small studios for rent. Dance groups and choreographers, photographers, and fashion designers took up space in there... with a separate entrance, right next to the main entrance to the hall. The musical Oklahoma was choreographed in there, to give you an idea of how big some of the studios must have been. He started there as a millinery (hat designer) in a tiny little one-room on the corner... and he never left. During the filming of this documentary, it was loaded with nothing but file cabinets, and a makeshift bed... a board and a mattress propped up on four masonry blocks, with books stored underneath. The only other things in this "studio apartment" are file cabinets and loads of books stacked up all over the place, and room for his Schwinn bicycle... his 29th Schwinn... the other 28 were all stolen.

His few clothes were on hangers hung off the handles of his filing cabinets. Sometimes he'd have to move a couple of hangers to get to a particular drawer to pull out negatives of a photo shoot he was looking for.

The bathroom and shower were in the hallway outside his studio, shared with other tenants. There was no kitchen. It was rent controlled.

He spends most of his time on the streets of NYC, at fashion shows, or working at social and fund-raising events.

Or he's in his area in the New York Times building (the big new one). His area consists of a block of a few cubicals, one of those light tables so he can view negatives, a computer where mostly he arranges the layouts for his weekly column (his assistant does the actual mousing of the layout, cropping, pasting, etc... while he says "No, don't cut off her arms... they're the most beautiful arms in New York...")

Carnegie Hall (owned by the City of New York, apparently) is run by a management company who decided they wanted to evict the 3 people left in the building who still called this their residence. They found comparable (or "better") accommodations for these tenants, in the area (i.e. ON Central park w/ views and a kitchen, bathroom, and closet). They show him going through a couple of places w/ the agent and he's like "Why do I need a kitchen? Just something more to clean. What would I PUT in that closet anyway?"

Apparently Carnegie Hall split up the studios (not his, his was TINY) into Telemarketing offices and cubical farms for businesses.

So anyway, over the years this guy has developed friendships with some of the most wealthy and influential people in the world, notably "Lady Astor" the 90-ish heir of the Astor fortune. Publishers, politicians, designers, philanthropists... he knows them all. Apparently The New York Times pays him a very decent salary. He took on some side jobs as well, most notably his work with Details Magazine starting in the early 80s (now defunct). However, he refused to take any money from Details. The first check Details offered him, he went in to his boss (the publisher) and ripped it up. He didn't want them to "own" him or influence him in any way. His attitude was "take my work as it is, or don't... but don't ever tell me what to do". They were known to publish 100+ page issues, featuring up and coming designers who nobody had yet heard of... apparently that's an unheard of number of pages for a magazine. They said that this magazine got bought out by another, and is now part of the Conde Naste empire (just down the street from NY Times building)... he didn't accept his share of the buyout either. Conde still sends a letter now and then telling him they have a check for him.

He quit working for another high profile magazine when they used his work against his intent. He did a column featuring shots of high end fashion on runway models at the fashion shows, and then the same clothing on people he saw randomly walking down the street. The magazine used unflattering captions for the "common" people. This was 100% opposite his philosophy, that fashion was ALL ABOUT what the common person wears on the street.

There's a great scene in the movie where he's in the crowd outside one of the biggest fashion events in Paris, and he's showing his press ID to the young chick at the gate... with a THRONG of people trying to get in, or at least snap a photo of people who ARE getting in. One guy behind the velvet rope reached passed this young girl and took him by the arm and escorted him in, while telling the girl "This is the most important man in the UNIVERSE right now."

He was honored in Paris for his work, and at the gala event he spent the whole night like he does every other night... snapping photos of the guests. He tells the promoters of events, "Don't even send me a guest list. I don't care if you have celebrities or royalty there. If I like the charity, I'll show up and your event will be featured in the NY Times. I don't CARE about who is in the dress, I'll find a good fashion layout at any event... or even better, in the street outside."

He is also noted for calling BS when he sees it. He's gone into his archive and published (in The Times) side by sides of some "new" designer's work, right next to something 30 years old... embarrassingly similar.

He also published some shots of models many years later, who he randomly caught on the streets of New York, in almost the exact same poses (just naturally occurring) that appeared 30 years earlier on the covers of magazines... such as a woman stepping over a puddle.

While the credits are rolling at the end, they flash a note saying that he signed a lease for a new apartment and is moving in this month.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rich Dad, Poor Wilk

Ever watch an entire half hour late night infomercial? How about one that lasts more than an hour? I knew what I was getting into, but I went anyway... and I regret it just the same.

Talk about Bait and Switch, the Rich Dad Poor Dad guy, Robert whatever his name is, wasn't even there. It was HIS product they were selling, but he wasn't there. We got a pitchman who could have just as well been selling knives or vacuum cleaners or crazy glue.

Don't get me wrong, he was EXCELLENT at what he does. I have seldom seen or heard a sales pitch so well crafted. And this guy was one of the guys who could talk SUPER FAST when he wanted to... like an auctioneer. They hit every one of the psychological buttons... they said every thing EXCEPT "act now, don't delay". Well they really DID say that, many many times... but not that exact phrase.

They actually went into a big thing about "What's the difference between the rich and to poor..." and one of the big points that they kept coming back to was "The rich TAKE ACTION !" And when it came time to reveal the big pitch, it was accompanied by "Take Action".

It was all well and good, with they guy trying to "make it fun... let's have fun with this... boy you guys are grumpy today... hey, this side of the room is louder than THAT side" ... trying to stir up audience participation... just like they do late night. (Host: "set it ..." Audience: "... and forget it!" accompanied by a big round of applause, by the audience, for the audience, because they can say the phrase "and forget it".)

BTW: this was the same routine Joe Hayes used to do at the Children's Theater down at Long Beach Island. "Hi boys and girls!! ... WHAT??? I can't HEAR YOU !!!"

I also saw this technique spelled out in a "How to do children's parties" guide for magicians.

I also saw Paul Stanley do this at a Kiss Concert.

So remember, the whole idea was that he was going to show us how to make money in the stock market, even when stocks are going down... or sideways. I'll jump ahead and tell you... what he was ACTUALLY going to show you how to register for a three day training session, including the study kit (in the limited edition yellow canvas bag), all for the low low price of $200. But wait... since you showed up, if you sign up today before you leave this room, we'll let you bring a guest with you to the three day session.

Truth is, this was really a pretty good deal. You got a couple of booklets on trading techniques, Robert's latest book Prophesy, the software CD (Mach Trader) which scans the market data in real time and gives you the charts and lists of stocks that meet your criteria, and one month free data feed from E-Signal (thereafter $45 per month, no contract, pay as you go)... and three days of training, for you and a friend. I suppose there might be more "opportunities" at the end of those 3 days (at a fee, of course).

It was all pretty light and upbeat, but at one point just before the big pitch, I SWEAR I saw horns grow out of this guy's head... in the name of Jesus! He was trying to impress upon us that he was not going to tell a lie, and that he would be accountable for what he was about to say... then went into this schpeel about how he attends a house of worship in his home town, based on a book 2000 years old, which gives the moral standards by which people have lived successful lives for all those years... all in his super fast pace. I heard some of the black ladies in the audience going into Gospel mode ("uh huh... you know it..."). He went on "... I'm accountable to my spouse and my community... we don't just want a good marriage, we want a GREAT marriage..." Apparently well chosen, because he was getting more "oh yea's" from the "congregation".

He also dragged out the America is the greatest country in the world, the most fertile green ground for investments... do you BELIEVE in America? Do you stand behind those men and women laying down their lives to protect our freedom?

Then finally the pitch... what you get, how much does it cost... act now and take a GUEST with you free... that DOUBLE's your value... bring your spouse and get TWICE the income into your home. Now this offer is only available at this price because you are HERE IN THIS ROOM RIGHT NOW. Call tomorrow, and the same offer over the phone will be $600.

Then he asks "How many are ready to sign up right now... cuz I'm gonna go on for another 90 minutes or however long it takes to go through as many of the investment techniques as I can... but let me first count who is ready to sign up RIGHT NOW.... 1, 2, 3..." (up to like 45) Then says, "while I start going into the details up here, how about all those who raised your hands go RIGHT TO THE BACK AND SIGN UP RIGHT NOW..."

So a ton of people head back to the tables in back, big ruckus in the room from this flurry of activity... and he says, for those of you who are NOT taking ACTION... I'll continue. Then he started to speak EVEN FASTER, being partially drowned out by the noisy room. Started showing the slides of searches you could do with the software, showed that if you looked at their MACD chart over time (that shows the "change in momentum") and bought and sold and shorted according to their method (as opposed to buying and holding)... making 5 transactions in APPLE in six months would have yielded a 26% gain, as opposed to a net loss. Then he paused and says "To those of you who DIDN'T take action... look behind you... you are now BEHIND all of those people. You have to stand in line and wait for THEM..." Then back to some more charts and slides.

Now, for those who never saw or heard "Rich Dad Poor Dad", the basic concept is to know the difference between assets and liabilities. Your HOME is not an asset, but a 2nd home which has a positive cash flow because you RENT it out... that's an asset. So he keeps going back to the "is this an asset or a liability..." game. He put up X-Box, and switched into "hellfire and tarnation" guy.... "it's a TOY for you CHILDREN, not for gown adults busy making money... and it teaches your children to be desensitized, to steal cars, to have their way with prostitutes, to sell crack, and to be lazy..." Then he puts up Education, Information, Knowledge, Financial Training... each going into the ASSET column... and finally he puts up Mach Trader for $200 in the Asset column.

He went back to more slides, but by then I'd had enough.

I did get my 5 gram block of 99.9% pure silver, in a soft pouch... and that's what I was really there for... the pouch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Latest run in with New York City Beuracracy

Life with a car in NYC... you get tickets... it happens. OK, probably not to EVERYBODY, but it happens to me. I'm not making excuses, I take responsibility for my actions. I was putting off dealing with three tickets for far too long, and I finally decided to take the trip down to John Street to take care of them.

Clearly I put of the first one too long, as it was already "in judgment". Now there's a phrase you don't get to use very often... "in judgment"... but more on that later.

So by this point, I've been down this road once or twice before. I know the procedure, I know the terminology, I speak English, I'm a fairly well educated person... I should be able to usher this process along at maximum efficiency, right? Riiiight !!!

Here's the basic flow chart...
step 1) go to main information desk, get form to fill out and get number
step 2) sit in seats and watch board until your number assigns you to a bulletproof glass window
step 3) go to bulletproof glass window, hand them your form, and they print out your rap sheet.
(forget what it's really called, but it used to be listed out on ultra-thin fan-fold tractor-feed dot-matrix printout... now there's an image of each ticket, on heavy stock paper, one per 8.5x11 sheet)
step 4) take said rap sheet and head over to adjudicator area, have a seat, wait for your number
step 5) show rap sheet to adjudicator and see what they offer you... likely each offense will get steep reduction in fine
step 6) decide if you want to contest any of the offense
step 7) proceed around the corner and wait for the next available judge
step 8) hand the judge your paperwork, swear in, state your name, sign in, plead your case, hope for the best. He can only dismiss the offense, or find you guilty in which case you are obliged to pay the full fine (not the reduced fine offered by the adjudicator)
step 9) proceed back to bullet proof glass area, to the cashiers in the back, and pay fine
step 10) get out of Dodge

Simple as pie, right? Riiiight !!!

Must have picked the right day and time (was there early in the morning), place was pretty empty. Front info desk had no line, smiles and courtesy from the workers, and ZERO wait time when my number was up right away. Yeee-hah, this is gonna be a breeze.

At bulletproof glass where I hand over my form. Woman takes my form and then looks at me. I wait. She waits. I wait.
She says, "What would you like to do?"
I give her my best "I'm perplexed" look, and then say "I believe I have some outstanding tickets. I'd like to take care of them today."
She says, "You would like printouts of your tickets?"
I say, "Yes please."
She says, "Which ones?"
I give her my 2nd best "I'm perplexed" look, and then say "Since I'm here, I'd like to take care of all of them today."
She says,"You want printouts of all of them?"
I say, "Yes please."
She says, "Can I see your license?"
I hand her my license, and she scans it in the electric beam. Then prints out two tickets, and a third sheet that lists all three offenses, one of which says "in judgment". Then takes out a PEN. Yes, a blue ball point ink PEN, and writes a series of numbers along the top of the page, which she is copying from the computer screen.

Can I repeat that for emphasis... after scanning my license with an electronic scanner, printing out two tickets ad a rap sheet, she WRITES a long series of numbers along the top of the rap sheet... numbers she's READING from the computer screen.

She hands me the stack, including the original form and my license, and asks "Is there anything else?"
I say, "No thank you. Now where do I go?"
Mind you, I don't know WHAT ELSE she could possibly do for me... I don't know what else she DOES there... as far as I can tell, that's ALL she does there, all day. And I DID know where to go, but I wanted to be sure we were all in agreement, and honestly, I wanted her to do her f'n job and direct the people towards the next stage.
She says, "Over that way to the adjudicator and wait for you number to come up."

So I head over to adjudicator, have a seat, and wait for my number to come up. Meanwhile two people come after me, and go right up to the desk, and the adjudicator deals with them. OK, apparently they DON'T go by the numbers at this point. I did notice that she directed both of those people around the side to go see the judges.

I approach the adjudicator, and say "I'm not sure if I should come right to you or wait for my number."
She says "It's fine, what do you have?"
I say "I just got my printout, and I'd like to adjudicate these tickets and fines."
She says "Go around and wait for the judge."

Hmmmm... that's not right. I'm pretty sure she's supposed to go through the papers and offer me a reduction. But I'm gonna play this there way, and see where it brings me. I go around and wait a few minutes for the next judge.

Nice guy... funny guy... comments on my ski lift tickets... (note to self, don't wear lift tickets next time, just in case I want to plead poverty, or insanity or something). He takes my paper work, I sign the electronic sign in gizmo, swear in, and he starts to type the hand written number into his computer. Tries it a few times, hands it back to me and says "read off that number to me"

I read it back slowly and accurately, and he says "Yeah, that's what I got... it's not working... go back and tell them that the number doesn't work. Come back to me if I'm around... or any of the other judges."

Yup, the one hand written part of the procedure... and the FUCKED it up !!!!

I go back to the same window, now waiting behind a lady who is yelling that she needs a copy of a ticket that they don't have for her. Eventually I get back there and say "The judge sent me back. This number is not right. It doesn't work." She punches around for a minute, crosses it out and writes it back again... this time with the digit she forgot to write... but it was still sloppy, so she wrote it out yet again.

Back to the same judge, have a good laugh about the missing digit, and he says "I see you have three tickets, but only two are coming up under this number. The third is in judgment. I could hear your case about the one in judgment, but not now, not under this number. You'll have to go back there and get another number for that one. So let's deal with these two. What's going on..."

I say "I'm kind of confused, I was going to just have these adjudicated."
He says, "So what are you doing here, you should have done that out at the desk."
I said, "I told them that's what I wanted to do... they sent me back here."
He said, "Well, let's look at this anyway... hmmm, ok, How about this... you'll still come out ahead... I'll just waive one ticket, find you guilty of the other, and that will be less than the adjudicated fines would have been."
I say, "Fair enough."
He says, "Then you can get back to the ski slopes, with your rosignol skis, and your salomon boots, and your SNS bindings, and be like Glen Plake... and starts prattling off half a dozen other ski terms."
I ask about the other ticket. He says that I can go get another number for that ticket, but I better have a good reason why I didn't pay it... like I was in Afghanistan fighting terrorists at the time, or something like that... otherwise the judgment will stand. "In Judgment" means that I was already found guilty.

Like I said, no excuses, I head over to the cashier and hand him all the paperwork. He looks at me, I look at him, he looks at me and says "So what do you want to do?"
I say, "I'd like to pay these fines, there are two of them... one of them was dismissed."
He says, "You can't just SAY THAT, you have to prove it."
I say, "How should I prove it?"
He says, "Show me what the judge gave you."
I point to the stack of papers that are in his hand.
He says begrudgingly, "Oh, ok... let me look... hmm... yes... ok... well, according to this, you had three fines, one was dismissed. What would you like to pay?"
I said, "I'd like to pay the two fines that I owe, and not pay the one that was dismissed."
He says, "Hmmm.. oh, ok. So where's the bill?"
I say, "I don't know."
He says, "They were supposed to give you a bill?"
I say, "Who was supposed to give me a bill?"
He says, "I don't know... the judge?... ahh, it doesn't matter..."
He then punches it into a glorified adding machine, and reads off the ribbon receipt $237.45. I pay cash and he pulls the change from an old school wooden money drawer. Punches something into a computer, and gets a printout that shows that I paid both fines.

Step 10... GET OUT OF DODGE.