Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'rant'

Who Is The Customer?

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 06, 2016 @ 11:30 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsI like to joke that with all the theatre that I attend, I’m a professional audience member.  On April Fools day 2015, I took that a step further, and announced the formation of a union for audience members: the League of Audiences, Fans, and Others Organized for Los-Angeles-Theatre. After a recent discussion with Colin over on Bitter Lemons, building off my post on how the Fringe Festival might treat its audience better, perhaps I shouldn’t have been joking.

In every business, you will have a producer, who produces a product or service, that is sold to the customer. You can often gain insight into the business, and the problems and risks, by understanding exactly who that customer is. Often it isn’t clear. For example, take Facebook? Who is the customer. If you think it is you the user, you’re wrong. Customers pay for goods and services. You get Facebook for free. So who is the customer? That’s right: the advertisers. Now ask yourself: What is the product? The answer is: your user data.

In terms of the theatre, it is an interesting question to ask. Let’s look at the Fringe Festival. To hear the lead organizers talk, it is the producers and actors. That’s pretty clear when you see all the workshops, and all the resources made available to the participants. When you go to the Hollywood Fringe website, and click on the big “Schedule” button — it asks you to schedule a show. Ticketing is at the single person level. Again: All geared towards the producers and actors. Where is the audience — and I should clarify, the TICKET PAYING audience — in the equation? Does Fringe central open up with the very first production for the audience? Can pins be obtained in advance? Is there a mechanism for people buying tickets for couples? Have arrangements been made for parking, or even recommendations? What information is provided to audience members before they arrive in terms of where to eat, where to park, where to pass time between shows? I think you know the answer. The Fringe Festival does not consider the audience their customer, at least at the present time.

How can the Fringe solve this problem? That’s easy: devote dedicated staff time to improving the audience experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have services like Goldstar, which Colin railes against in a recent post over on Bitter Lemons. His complaint there is about Goldstar’s skew towards the audience, where they provide loads of services. I note quite a few of them in my comments on that post:

  • An easy way to find shows of interest, from a wide-variety of venues — often, much wider than is available from either Footlights or LA Stage Tix
  • The ability to see reviews and recommendations about the shows and venues
  • The convenience of an easy to use online and app interface.
  • Discounted seats. Everyone likes to save money
  • For red-velvet members, the easy ability to cancel a show, without penalty, if plans change. That’s often priceless, and often makes me use Goldstar over another service where — if reviews indicate a show is a stinker, I’m stuck.
  • The ability to “star” shows and venues, so I can easily learn when a company or theatre I like has a new show, or when new tickets are available.
  • They cover lots of cities. I’ll be in the San Francisco area next week, and I’m seeing two shows. One I have tickets to from a Kickstarter (otherwise, it’s on Goldstar) — the Boy from Oz from Landmark Musicals. The other — ACT San Francisco’s Last 5 Years — is from Goldstar. I didn’t have to hunt around to find how to get discount tickets — or tickets at all — in a different city.

The primary complaint against Goldstar is that they often strong arm theatre to give large blocks of tickets to the service, and there is a push to make many of the complementary, which brings no income to the producer. He also complains about Goldstar’s fees, but as I note above, they do provide a lot of service for their fee (certainly more than Ticketmaster).  Note that the Fringe is that the other end of the spectrum: low fee, but low additional benefits for those ticketing through the service.

So, to bring this all home, what can we learn from all of this?

The Fringe has a producer and artist focus — and makes it difficult for the customer. Goldstar has great customer service, but with a big cost to the producer (of aggressive discounting). What is needed is balance: a complete understanding of all the customers — producers, artists, and audience. The successful approach — one that brings customers in and keeps them coming back  — is one that understands the need of all of them and benefits them all. I’m not sure yet that intimate theatre has found the right balance.


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A Rumination: Women and the Draft

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 14, 2016 @ 6:31 am PDT

userpic=war-not-healthySometimes, you just see an article or a headline and it starts a rumination in your head. So it is with an opinion piece in the LA Times this morning titled: “Should women register for the draft? That’s the wrong question to ask about our military.” I have a number of thoughts on this…

I still remember, many years ago, when I dutifully sent an address change to selective service (I think it was when we moved in 1989), and I got back a letter saying, “You’re too old; you no longer need to send us address changes.” I’m at the tail end of the old draft era, and at the beginning of the new draft era. My brother had to register for selective service, and had the real risk of being sent to Vietnam, if he hadn’t been in school. When I turned 18, that draft was already over. A new form of selective service — register only, but no service — started in 1980. So I registered, but President Carter told us we wouldn’t need to go.

As a result, I’ve never been called up or had to serve in the military. At 56, and with my various medical issues, that’s unlikely to happen now. However, once I graduated college I started serving the nation, and have actually been serving the nation for my entire working career. I’ve been helping develop, evaluate, and acquire secure systems that the Government needs; I’m actually cognizant and proud every day that I do so.

So do I think women should register for the draft? I think it is an absurd question in many ways.

First, there’s the “women” aspect. Not having women register means that we see some inherent difference in their ability to serve. The military has been co-ed for many years; women are now fulfilling combat roles. Further, denying the military the talents of women would put us at a severe disadvantage. Further, we’re in an era were we are erasing the gender-bound roles. We have marriage equality, and we’re bringing in equality for the transgendered. With that, we shouldn’t have the distinction at all. The requirements to register should apply to all adult citizens.

But then, there is the question of “registering” at all. If we require all adults to register, irrespective of sex, then doesn’t your selective service number become your defacto national ID? Who needs social security numbers anymore — just use selective service IDs. But if government is as much of a “big brother” as one says, there shouldn’t be the need to register because everyone should be automatically registered. After all, you have to get a social security number when you are born. You’re going to be someone’s dependent. You’ll be on the records. The government knows who the adults are from the tax records; even if it didn’t, “big data” out there does know. Why require registration when it isn’t technically necessary. A separate registration is an artifact of a pre-Internet era.

So let’s set aside the question of whether women should register, or whether there should be registration at all — and go instead to the question of whether there should be Selective Service. Here I think our laws are too lax. I think there should be required service to the nation. I’m not saying there should be military service, or that it should be volunteer. I believe that everyone should be required to do some form of service to the nation in their life. It could be service in the military. It could be working for the Federal government either directly or as a contractor (as I do). It could be doing research for the national good. It could be working with the Peace Corps, or helping to rebuild our cities. It could be working with charities or religious groups. Whatever is done, we live in a special nation with wonderful freedoms (despite its various flaws) — and we should all be working to make it better.

But the article in the LA Times that started this rumination was moving more in the direction about our military being too big. I’ve seen comments to that effect before, along with the chart that shows that defense spending occupies over 50 percent of the Federal budget. Usually, when that chart appears, it is accompanied with an exhortation that the funding should go to some other purpose — perhaps more subsidies to the poor or other redistribution schemes.

I look at government spending a different way. Instead of looking at government spending by department, look at it this way: how much of Federal spending is spent on jobs: either direct Federal employees or people working for Federal contractors? In doing so, note that Federally-funded research is also in the jobs category. How much is spent on acquiring things: building infrastructure, renting infrastructure, maintaining infrastructure, acquiring material — be it weapons systems, computer systems, or whatever. In that acquisition cost, think only of the physical items — the people that build them are jobs, not things. Lastly, how much is spent on subsidizes to people: programs like welfare, veterans services, tax breaks, and such.

When you look at the government that way, I’d suggest that the vast bulk of Government expenditures is for jobs. Be they jobs at Defense Contractors, the military payroll expense, employees at Agriculture, NIH, researchers. A much smaller percentage is on acquiring things; a similarly small percentage in on subsidies. So, making the significant cuts at defense as people propose would create significant unemployment; it would result in the loss of many well-paying jobs and hurt the middle-class of this country.

That’s not to say there isn’t waste that couldn’t be cut. There is lots of waste, much created because there were a few people who abused the system, and so entire levels of cruft are built up to prevent that abuse from happening again. But the notion of seeing the defense budget as solely for weapons of war is the wrong way to look at it. The bulk of the defense budget is spent on people: the military, the defense contractors, the veterans. The actual physical weapons are just a small part. That $35 million bomber: the raw cost of the components is nothing compared with the labor cost to build it, maintain it, and acquire it.

So, circling back to the original trigger for this rumination: Should women be required to register for the draft? You should walk away with the following points:

  1. It is silly to even attempt to make a gender-based distinction such as this these days.
  2. Separate registration shouldn’t be required in this era of big data. The government knows who the over 18 adults are already. Registration should be automatic.
  3. We think of selective service as being called to work in the military. In reality, all of us, as citizens of this nation, should be required to do some form of service that benefits the nation over our lifetime.
  4. Military spending isn’t for the machinery of war. Military spending is in reality a gigantic jobs program, including both those who work for the DOD, as well as supporting services and defense contractors. It is also a subsidy program for veterans. The raw material costs for things acquired is minor when compared to the other functions.

I thank you for your attention.


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Perhaps Not What They Wanted

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 27, 2016 @ 6:32 pm PDT


Dogs got to bark, a mule’s got to bray.
Soldiers must fight and preachers must pray.
And children, I guess, must get their own way
The minute that you say no.

Why did the kids pour jam on the cat?
Raspberry jam all over the cat?
Why should the kids do something like that,
When all that we said was no?

Today, the licensing group for the upcoming production of Harold Pinter’s “The Room” made an interesting request demand of The Wooster Group, who is presenting the show at REDCAT in downtown L.A. from Feb. 4 to 14.  Their request, as the Wooster Group relayed to critics in an email (and which Bitter Lemons reported):

On January 11, 2016, Samuel French instructed the Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden. The Group appealed this decision, and Samuel French subsequently lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but informed the Group that the restriction on reviews will remain in place. Samuel French’s licensing agreement states that “There may be absolutely No reviews of this production; e.g. newspaper, website posts etc.” The Group was also informed that they could not currently receive permission for future performances of the production being planned in New York City and Paris.

Guess what, Samuel French. I’m not a critic. I’m a blogger. Further, I’m the one that dictates the content on my website — no one else. I’m not writing the post on Facebook or another site with a Terms of Service. I run my own WordPress installation.

However, I’m not posting a review of the show, only because my weekends are already filled during its run. So I’m doing the next best thing. Go here. Buy tickets. Then take Colin up on his offer and send him your review to post. The ability of an audience member to share their opinion of a show should never be stifled. [However, it might be qualified — so if you do see a preview or a work-in-progress — please qualify your opinion.]

Sure as the June comes right after May!
Sure as the night comes right after day!
You can be sure the devil’s to pay
The minute that you say no.

Make sure you never say…

[Lyrics: “Never Say No”, The Fantastiks]

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Musings on ⇒ Porter Ranch and Ancillary Damage

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 15, 2016 @ 12:05 pm PDT

userpic=disasterI seem to be in a musings mode this week, and today my lunchtime thoughts are about the clusterfuck that is the Aliso Canyon (Porter Ranch) gas leak (SoCalGas Aliso Canyon Leak Info Site)

For reference, this map shows approximately the distance from my house to the leak (it’s about 7 mi, uphill, to the leak); this page shows an estimate of the areas impacted. Here’s my previous post on the subject. Recent news has shown how massive of a clusterfuck this is turning into:

We don’t live in Porter Ranch. We do live in Northridge, downhill and downwind from Aliso Canyon. There are mornings we have smelled the mercaptan, but it isn’t persistent or heavy. The YMCA I go to is in Porter Ranch; our synagogue is on the edge of Porter Ranch. I don’t personally know folks who have evacuated yet, but I’m sure I’ll learn more names when I go to the next temple event.

Fixing the leak isn’t easy. They’ve already undermined the wellhead, and made the problem worse with each stoppage attempt. The crater around the wellhead is now 25 feet deep, 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. The wellhead sits exposed, held in place with cables attached after it wobbled during the plugging attempt. The well pipe and its control valves are exposed and unsupported within that hole, atop a deep field of pressurized gas. So Cal Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks. If it fails, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels. A blowout would also increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. This is on top of the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. This well is in the middle of a brushfire area, and is subject to very strong winds.

Further, this is a problem that won’t go away when they finally fix the leak. Businesses have been impacted (the Y is almost empty when I go up there). I know it is impacting our synagogue, and I could easily see it creating difficulties for the upcoming cantoral search. It is going to drastically lower the property values of homes in Porter Ranch (which weren’t cheap — I’d guess between $750K and $1.5Mil), and I could see numbers being abandoned out of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and distrust). It is going to impact the property values of neighboring communities as well, and will certainly make it difficult for those looking to sell.

Then, of course, there is the increased cancer risk, which might not appear for decades and would be difficult to positively attribute to this source.

Further, our society being what it is, lawsuits will abound. Already, the sharksarecirclingand smellingthe chum. Who will they sue? SoCalGas, which is part of Sempra Energy, which was formerly San Diego Gas and Electric. Where do they get their funds? Ratepayers. Who will pay for the lawsuits? Ratepayers and Insurance Companies. Further, you know the actuaries at those insurance companies will increase their rates in response: both for the utilities affected (hitting the ratepayers), as well as for homeowners and businesses living in the area. These will all come back to bite those in Porter Ranch and neighboring neighborhoods.

The sad part of this all is that I don’t see any good resolution, and those of us in the area are stuck, either in one end or the other.

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A Dinner Costs How Much?!?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 2:40 pm PDT

userpic=acsacFriday, the ACSAC conference ended for 2015. This year (and next year), the conference was in Los Angeles at the beautiful Universal City/Los Angeles Hilton; this meant that on top of my usual Training Chair hat, I was Local Arrangements Chair. That means I was the coordinator for the event: assigning the rooms, picking the dinner entertainment (more on that in the next post), and selecting all the menus. When I first saw the hotel menus, I was shocked at the prices: lunch prices between $40 and $50; and dinner prices even higher. In fact, when I got the end of day survey for the first day at the hotel, I had trouble answering the question: was this a good value for the price? How can you judge, when gallons of coffee are so expensive.

But as the week went on, I grew to understand the prices are so high. In many ways, this is the same reason that the prices are so high in well established and fancy restaurants. And, no, the reason is not “because they can”. The reason is service.

When you go to almost any restaurant, the bulk of the cost of your meal is not the food costs. Food costs, right now, are relatively low. Delivery costs to your location are higher, but even those aren’t the bulk of the cost due to the volume being shipped. The most significant factor in the cost of a meal out is the labor. In fact, the labor is so expensive they increase the size of the portion so you don’t feel guilty paying that price. [And, of course, we’ve all be taught to clear our plates and not waste food, and so you have one reason behind the growth in obesity. In fact, there might be an interesting statistical study in the correlation between the cost of labor, portion size, and obesity in society.]

In a hotel — especially in a hotel that focuses on service such as a ★★★★ hotel — that cost is magnified more so. Everywhere I turned around at the HUC (Hilton Universal City) there was someone from Banquets making sure that all our needs were met, someone from IT making sure the A/V was right, someone from … you get the idea. Who pays for that service? It isn’t room rental — often room rental is gratis if you make a particular number of room nights and a minimum food and beverage. In fact, the answer is in that sentence: it is in the room rates, and the food and beverage costs. A certain amount of labor can be absorbed by the room rates, but the hotel also must be competitive. The bulk of the labor is captured in the F&B costs.

So, let’s go back to the question: is it a good value? We had only compliments on the quality of the food, and the quantity was almost too much (must remember that for next year). Most importantly, there were no complaints about service or the meeting rooms. The hotel staff was there whenever we needed them, often going above and beyond (with no additional charges). So, looking back in retrospect, I think it was a reasonably good value.

(Of course, that still didn’t mean I didn’t wince a little signing the final event orders. Who wouldn’t? But I also now better understood why I was paying what I was paying).

By the way, this is something that the great unwashed public — and even Congress — doesn’t understand. We’ve all read of the DOD acquiring toilet seats that cost $200 each, when they are $10 at the hardware store. We get incensed about the price, without knowing that they have unique manufacturing requirements that prohibit volume manufacturing, that they have documentation and maintenance requirements for their lifetime, and that they have the overhead of the administrative employees at the corporation that manufactures them, which has much lower volume to spread that overhead across when compared to a bulk manufacturer. Similarly, we hear stories of conferences with the $15 muffin or the $45 rubber chicken, and think the government is wasting money. It isn’t: that money goes to all the people employed by the hotel, providing all the service, and spending that money in the community. Yes, there are some conferences with boondoggles, but most food costs are not the boondoggles. Now you understand.

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And take a tip from La Belle France: “Viva la difference!”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 22, 2015 @ 8:00 pm PDT

Observation StewLet’s end this week of news chum posts with song lyrics in the title with a very apropos song for a “news chum stew” post: Pete Seeger’s All Mixed Up. The point of the song is a timely lesson for all of those who profess hatred or refuse to permit in refuges:

There were no red-headed Irishmen
Before the Vikings landed in Ireland
How many Romans had dark curly hair
Before they brought slaves from Africa?
No race of man is completely pure,
Nor is anyone’s mind, that’s for sure
The winds mix the dust of every land,
And so will woman and man.

And now, on with the stew:


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Dashing Daesh

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Nov 16, 2015 @ 7:11 pm PDT

userpic=camelsBefore I go and do another news chum post to start clearing the links, a few thoughts that hit me over lunch while I was reading the news and seeing all the articles about how bombing Daesh is the answer to the terrorism (why do I use Daesh? Read this).

Simply put, the notion that we can bomb Daesh off the map and have the terrorism stop is so World War II. It comes from a mentality of nation states waging war, and more importantly, nation states that can stop the war when they surrender and admit defeat. We really haven’t had a war like that since World War II or the Korean Conflict, and perhaps Vietnam.

It is clearly not the case in the “War on Terrorism”. Terrorism is distributed, with cells throughout the world. We saw this after 9/11. You clean up one area, and the problem moves to another. You get rid of one acknowledged leader (Osama Bin Laden), and another pops up.

Suppose — just suppose — that we carpetbombed Daesh out of Iraq and Syria. Sheet of glass, however you want to do it. Conventional. Nuclear. Would that stop the terrorism threat from Daesh?

Nope. They’ve got sympathizers around the world. New leaders will pop up. New cells will vow revenge. There will be retaliatory attacks and the problem will go on.

There are those who will say the problem is Islam. It isn’t. Most Muslims are peace loving. The problem is fundamentalism, and fundamentalism combined with (to put it bluntly) brain-washing. Militant fundamentalism is a problem whether it is Islam militant fundamentalists from Daesh, Christian militant fundamentalists in America (or on the crusades), or Jewish militant fundamentalists in the occupied territories.

So how do we address this problem. First, we think about how to do it right. Simple retaliatory strikes are not the answer; in fact, it may aggravate the situation. Strikes that speak the language they understand would help (read “From Beirut to Jerusalem” to understand what I’m saying). Strikes that don’t walk into the PR game they are playing would also help. Everytime we do a carpetbombing strike and kill civilians as collateral damage, we give Daesh ammunition to recruit. Weeding out militant fundamental throughout the world would be a good start.

I think the real answer is to see this is a long game. Militant fundamentalism often arises out of class struggle; rarely do you see the militant fundamentalists being part of the 1%; instead, they are near the bottom of the 99%. If we can raise the standard of living, improve education, improve critical thinking, empower men and women (especially) to excel; if we can make it so that no one needs to fight for the underclass because there is no underclass — then we can create a world where the terrorism is no longer needed.

Now to go write the news chum.

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Responding to the French Attacks

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 14, 2015 @ 12:23 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxWhile eating lunch, I was getting ready to do my normal news chum post, when I began rereading the article about the attack in France, the French response, the responses on Facebook, and I began thinking about what I had written earlier in the week about freedom of religion in the US. I was thinking about how we began the week all up in arms about the symbolism of the Starbucks Red Cup. I knew that Islam was not to blame for this attack, but was rolling around in my mind how to prevent such attacks in the future. Could we, for example, ban the type of fundamentalism that led to ISIL. The answer is no; the characteristics of the ISIL group — a belief in scripture as law — exists not only there but in fundmentalist Christianity, and even in some Orthodox Jewish sects.

Then it hit me. In America, we judge people not by their beliefs, but by what they do. To use an extreme example, one could want to commit all sorts of sexual depravities in one’s head, but if they only remain thoughts untranslated into action, there’s no crime. Jimmy Carter can lust in his heart all he wants; it is when he acts that there is a problem. We do not have, nor should we have, the thought police.

The answer to this violence is not to bar or attack religions, or to bar and attack refugees. It is to bar and punish those who commit terrorism. It is to enforce the laws we have regarding planning treason, endangering the public, possessing explosives without permits, etc.

It is also to consider the other end of judging people by what they do. We should be recognizing those who are pushing for peace, speaking up about the peaceful side of belief, preaching how belief tells us to care about the downtrodden, those in worse situations than us, and for mutual respect.

Our enemy here is not religion or refugees. It is terrorists, and those who want to create chaos through terror.

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