Friday, September 30, 2011

Talking about music

If you audited my iPod you'd find it is a crappy mix of music.  There's some off items like my Frank Sinatra collection or Patsy Cline or Johnny Cash, but not a whole lot of top 40 fare.  Well not 21st century top 40.  Hell, not even second half of the 20th century top 40.  Depending on things a lot of heavy metal but also a lot of "classical music".  Lately Shostakovitch, but over the summer a heavy Villa-Lobos rotation.  I have a hard time calling 20th century composers "classical".  I really hate discussing music with new people because most people don't like heavy metal and assume that if you listen to it you are dumb white trash.  I just found out who Lady Gaga was a few months ago because of that funny Andy Rehfeldt video, and I had no idea who Amy Winehouse was when she died.  So many awkward conversations there.  I thought she was some American Idol contestant or something.  I've never actually seen that show, except the funny youtube clips.  So when I meet new people conversations usually go like this:

Random stranger:  So what do you do?
Me:  I drink.
Random stranger:  Haha, no what do you do for a living?
Me:  I sit in a cubicle and do boring uninteresting stuff all day.
Random stranger:  Well what kind of music do you like?
Me:  Classical music.

Boom conversation over!  So if you ever find yourself talking to some random jerk and want to shut down the conversation in the most painless way possible just tell them you listen to classical music.  They will think you are the most boring person alive and practically run away.  This works great, I have never had this conversation and said "classical music" and had a further question or comment about music.  If you are like me and hate 99% of all humans you should add this to your conversation repertoire.

Also, make sure you have this on your iPod at all times because 1. it is awesome music and 2. if anyone ever asks you can bust this out to make sure no one ever pries into your music world again.

ZOMG so boring amirite!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marketing 101

This is my blog and I'll post what I like.  And right now I am obsessed with marketing and smartphones, so this is a rambling smartphone post.

First I like to think that Microsoft has the worst marketing department since General Motors.  I mean what was the Jerry Seinfeld commercial supposed to sell?  It was funny but I didn't get it at all.

So Microsoft released their Windows phone 7 update, called Mango.  I want to start with this as an example of terrible marketing.  The new Windows mobile OS was a huge departure from the old and terrible Windows Mobile OS.  They rethought the mobile platform and came up with a concept of making the GUI like a subway map.  The philosophy led them to a color scheme of solid primary colors and the Metro typeface.  So why didn't they call it Windows Metro?  It makes sense.  It is something that identifies the brand and what it is trying to accomplish.  Calling it Windows Phone 7 leads the average consumer to think it is more of the same old crap rather than something new and different.  Fail.

Mango.  The first thing that mangos spring to mind is that Saturday Night Live skit.  The second is that naming each OS iteration after a fruit is simply copying Google's plan of naming each OS iteration after a confectionery treat.  Mango and guava.  Honeycomb and gingerbread.  I get it.  Second fiddle to Google.  Poor man's Android.  That's what this marketing tells me.

I'm not married to Apple, Lord knows I hate iTunes.  Seriously, they took away the delete key?  I have to click edit -> delete now?  FUUUUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!!

Still Apple has some of the best marketing around.  Just look at the iPhone marketing.  It is brilliant in its simplicity.  A close up of the actual phone with a hand model demonstrating the phone's ease of use.  In contrast Microsoft tried to market 7 by showing people spending too much time looking at their screens.  How does Microsoft's phone do better?  I don't know because the commercial didn't show me.  Just showed a bunch of iPhone losers looking at their screens instead of talking to girls.  Doesn't exactly sell me on the hub crap.

When I survey the smartphone market I think about what phone I'll buy next.  I love my 3GS and see no reason to upgrade anytime soon.  It still does all the things I want and none of the new phones, including the iPhone 4, do things significantly better.  But I know that one day it will break and it will be time for an upgrade.  A friend has an Android and I like the widget thing.  Very useful.  Maybe the new iOS 5 will match the widgets.  The Mango has live updates on their icons, seemingly similar to widgets.  Which one looks the best?  Not RIM.  Buhzing!

Would I buy a Windows Metro phone?  Maybe.  I think marketing plays a big role right now, since other smartphones have finally caught up with the iPhone.  I've researched this probably more carefully than most consumers, and there is a lot to like about Metro.  The problem is that they don't do a very good job at showing people what there is to like about Metro.  Androids have marketed well by showing that they have better hardware than the iPhone but comparable features from the OS.  In some ways slightly better, for example cordless syncing.  So while the Android ecosystem is incredibly diverse in terms of OS versions and hardware iterations, consumers at least know something about the brand.  And this brings us back to marketing 101.

Will Windows Metro flourish or flounder?  I can't tell right now.  There is a lot to like about the OS, but a few problems, and a lot of hardware question marks.  But what I can tell is that the marketing for this product is fairly poor and this will hurt sales.  That will limit developer participation, which in turn reinforces poor sales.  My own humble policy recommendation is to rename it Metro, and work closely with the handset manufacturers to market and brand the Metro phone ecosystem as its own thing, and then advertise all the ways that Metro gives you the best combination of hardware and user experience.  This isn't a profound insight, this is Marketing 101.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Black Metal hipsters

I am old and out of touch, but lately I've been hearing that hipsters are into black metal now.  I guess there is some flannel wearing hipster in Brooklyn that has a Burzum clone band and is really pushing the low fi sound to the masses.  I wondered where this stuff came from, but then I found it.

Hipsters love documentaries.  Check out the credits at the end.  The soundtrack is composed of Norwegian black metal and...

Boards of Canada.

I wondered about this and now I know.  A movie about black metal for hipsters.  I'm sure hipsters only enjoy "authentic" black metal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Summer's End

Samhain (pronounced saw-in) is a Gaelic word meaning "summer's end", and referred to a harvest festival held in Ireland on October 31st.  Here in the upper Midwest summer's end comes a little earlier.  Today is a good day to celebrate Samhain.  Today is the last day of summer/first day of autumn.

What better way to celebrate Samhain than with music.  Today feels like a classic Norwegian black metal day, and what better way to explore the music of Norway than with some of the albums produced by Pytten and recorded at Grieghallen.

Early Burzum is kind of a joke but the trancey structure of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is a breath of fresh air from the sometimes formulaic song structures of heavy metal bands.

Back before the webernets it was hard to find any information on these bands.  I was surprised to see Pytten and Grieghallen show up in so many liner notes.  For example what is clearly Emperor's best work

Thus Spake the Night Spirit.  They don't make them like that anymore.  Sadly neither did Emperor.

I thought Borknagar, aside from having a silly name, had an uneven debut album.

One of the better tracks.

Ain't gonna lie, I never bought into the whole Mayhem mystique.  But you gotta at least respect De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Freezing Moon, solid

I like that you can even find new things.  File Hades under "it's new to me".

There is definitely a certain pathos in the work that binds them together.

What more can I say?  The work speaks for itself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Double bubble toil and trouble

Today I declare my independence from breweries.  I have taken a stand against the craft beer movement.  I reject the over-priced, over-hopped, uncreative beers.  I refuse to pay 9 dollars for a six pack.  I refuse to choke down another bitter, sour, generic beer with a showy label.  I refuse to be a part of it any longer.  Today I make my own beer.

That's right, I am now brewing beer.  Malting hulled barley didn't work so well, so I bought some malted barley from a brew store.  It was cheap, about a buck a pound.  So roughly the same price as hulled barley from Whole Foods.  I have a lead on some whole barley from a feed store, but that is a project for another time.

The process is really basic (so easy an ancient Sumerian could do it).  Just cook the sugars out of the malted barley.  You may want to cook the barley a few times to get all the sugars out.  Can you believe they came up with a stupid name for cooking the barley a second time?  They call it sparging.  My wife calls it spooging.  You can tell if there is a lot of sugars left in the barley by eating a few grains.  After cooking it a second time most of the sweetness was gone, and it was enough to get the specific gravity to 1.040 (though I will add some brown sugar for that gingerbread sweetness) but more importantly enough to get a gallon of juice.

Then the barley juice is boiled and here it is like wine making.  With wine it is called must, with beer it is called wort, but it is the same thing.  Boil it and add ingredients to taste.  I added the smallest amount of hops possible and it altered the taste considerably.  I also added the quadrafecta of pumpkin pie spices:  cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.  It is going to be a harvest beer in time for pumpkin pies and spiced apple cider.

Cooking beer or wine is a lot like cooking any food dish.  Taste it, taste it, taste it.  I am surprised when I read the home brewing forums how few people taste the stuff before they start fermenting.  They seem like a bunch of engineers measuring the yields and conversions and whatnot and less like artisan chefs cooking something delicious.  Like fine dining, brewing is a little of both.  You know how the flavors will change; the yeast will impart a yeasty flavor and reduce the sweetness.  So just keep that in mind as you add spices like hops and cinnamon.  One caveat:  some spices will become more pronounced as it ferments, especially cloves.  Go easy on the cloves because they will taste stronger in a month.

Pro tip:  fill up your jug with the hot barley juice and put the jug in a bucket of cold water to drop the temperature down quickly.  If you have enough ice, put ice in the water.  I find ice most effective at dropping the temperature once it has already gone below 100.

So I am down on the craft beer movement for a couple of reasons.  One, it is damn expensive.  Let me tell you, grains are cheap.  Historically, grains have always been cheap.  Grains are still cheap today.  I figure that most of the cost of beer is advertising and distribution costs.  In theory a beer that does little to no advertising and is shipping less than 100 miles should be cheaper than the big beer competition shipped a few states away and running Superbowl ads, right?

Two, after a while, these craft beers all start to look the same.  The lineups are identical:  a super hop charged ale, a super hop charged pilsner, a wheat beer, a stout, and an IPA.  Beer genres.  Bah.

And, thanks to Sam Adams, all beer must now have a ridiculous amount of hops.

After this commercial aired we saw Miller start with triple hops beer and the micros come out with a huge assortment of super charged hops beers.

No hops are not the soul of beer.  Barley is the heart and soul of beer.  Hops were not used in beer production 1,000 years ago.  Hops are slightly toxic and therefore a natural preservative, but does not kill the yeast, which is why they were widely adopted.  You know, before refrigeration.  They impart a bitter citrus flavor, which can be nice sometimes but does it always have to taste that way?  I reject the idea that all beer must be a bitter mouthful of super charged hops.  I even question the necessity of a homebrewer using hops at all.  They tell me it will be too sweet.  Really?  Sweeter than Pepsi?  Surely not.

My ingredients cost 8 dollars and will make a bit less than 4 liters of beer.  However, the most expensive ingredient was the yeast, which I will be able to reuse.  So the cost of the beer was really more like 4 dollars for maybe 3 liters.  A bottle of beer has 12 ounces.  A 6 pack is therefore 72 ounces.  72 ounces is a little more than 2 liters.  So I should get maybe 9 bottles of beer for around 4 bucks, or around 40 cents a beer.  That is cheap.

My beer doesn't fall into any genre. This time the malt was a mix of 2 pounds of pale malt, 1/2 pound of crystal malt, and 1/4 pound of rolled oats.  In the future I will probably cook 3 or 4 different types of malt separately and mix them together into the wort one bit at a time so that I can gain total control over the flavor profile.  This batch I am shooting for a flavor profile like gingerbread or cinnamon oatmeal cookies or some other baked autumnal treat.  The key thing is getting the right mix of malted barley and spices.  Stay warm

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Vortex raises a gale

You remember back when Dimmu Borgir fired their bassist and keyboardist?  Well I always thought the bassist was super talented and I love the hell out of his doom band Lamented Souls.  So I was super excited to hear he had a solo album coming out.  Let's give it a listen, shall we?

Eh it sounds ok. Not sure if I dig it or not.  What do you think?  Did Dimmu fire the two most talented members of the band?  Do you think they are happy they don't have to wear makeup and silly costumes anymore?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It's new to me: Richard Cheese

When I was a teenager, 66 years ago, I had a dream.  And that dream was to make big band swing/lounge versions of heavy metal songs.  I wanted to hear the filthy lyrics of Cannibal Corpse crooned and fully articulated.

Good start, but can we get some horns?

That is more like it.  Love this stuff.  And it's new to me.  Is it new to you too?


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Booze marketing: entry level price signaling

One curiosity I've observed is the tendency for entry level whiskey to follow a similar price pattern, and that is also true of some other boozes.  The price pattern is as follows:  entry level flagship whiskey is 20 dollars.  From there the next highest iteration of the flagship brand increases in price and taste but other bottlings in the same genre have not clear price to taste relationship.

For example the flagship Scotch whisky is Johnnie Walker.  The entry level bottling is the red label, which is 20-25 dollars a fifth.  The black label is around 30 dollars for a fifth and is a step up in taste.  Lesser blended Scotch whiskys can be had for lesser price.  But equally good Scotches can be had for lesser price as well.

This pattern holds with American whiskies.  The entry level flagship product is Jack Daniels at roughly 20 dollars a fifth.  Irish whiskies the same, Jameson is about 20 dollars a fifth.  The entry level flagship Canadian whisky is Crown Royal, again 20 dollars for a fifth.  You can find just as good brands for lesser price:  Old Fitzgerald, Irish Manor, Canadian Club are all less expensive but equally tasty for my money.

I have even observed this to be true of Spanish Brandy.  The entry level flagship brand, Fundador, is 20 dollars for a fifth.  Perhaps this is why Spanish brandy sells so poorly here.  The flagship brand is not a solid brand, so it spoils the whole genre.  Perhaps if Veterano were sold for 20 dollars a fifth it could displace Fundador as the flagship brand, and raise the whole genre of Spanish brandy?  With the right distributor and marketing it could work, and would certainly raise the standard of cognate brands like Soberano.

So the question I have is why is it that 20 dollars for a fifth is the such an important price point for the entry level flagship whiskey?