Watching Joan Jett At The Mountain Winery

Joan Jett Unvarnished 2013I’ve been teasing my friend about going to see K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the Village People at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga next week, as KGO-Radio (810 AM) was giving away tickets for a week (his response was “No!” and “Hell no!” to seeing the 1970’s bands). When I checked the ticket prices, I noticed that Joan Jet & The Blackhearts was playing on Saturday, 9/7, and found a pair of reasonably priced tickets. We didn’t hesitate to see her play this past Saturday.

I was never a big music fan growing up. My older brother and his Fleetwood Mac albums got kicked out of the house when I was still a young child. My mother bought me an old record player and a set of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley 45’s from the Goodwill Store. My father’s truck only had two radio stations, country and talk. That didn’t help me as a confused teenager in the early 1980’s, listening to the Beatles when everyone else was listening to Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and Boy George. I did pick up Joan Jett’s single at the time, “Crimson & Clover,” but I didn’t become a fan until I heard “Bad Reputation” in the first Shrek movie.

Getting to the Mountain Winery was a special challenge. Although the directions for getting there from the 85 was clear, it was less clear once we got into the mountains above Silicon Valley. We caught the right turn from Highway 9 that was a sharp U-turn on to the road that went past the winery, but missed the similar left turn into the winery that was also a sharp U-turn. That became obvious when I drove past a sheriff cruiser and the uphill drive went downhill from there. After making a wide U-turn at a four-way stop, we drove back through the entrance to start the steep climb with multiple turns on a narrow road. This was rough driving for my 1999 Ford Taurus that caused the engine to overheat and the coolant to boil over.

The Mountain Winery is literally on top of the mountain with a spectacular view of Silicon Valley. More so after the sun goes down and the street lights turn on to surround the tall buildings of downtown San Jose in a brilliant sea of orange street lights. Despite the views, we couldn’t escape the wildlife. Flies aimed for the eyes and nose to lay their eggs. As the evening cooled down, a bat came out to eat the flies. Marijuana smoke and alcohol fumes whiffed through the air.

The opening act was Survival Guide with Emily Whitehurst and Jaycen McKissick. Their music was quite different with a techno beat. Jett dived into a set list that featured a selection of songs from the new album and the classic songs she acknowledged that we all love and know so dearly, performing 18 songs in 90 minutes almost non-stop. The audience was mostly baby boomers who outgrown being young punks. A memorable performance.

The Nightmare Continues At Amy’s Baking Company

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For some strange reason, CNBC has made the fifth episode of “The Profit” unavailable on their website unless you have a cable TV subscription. That’s frustrating since I only watch TV online. Fortunately, Hulu had the episode, “LA Dogworks,” available for viewing. Marcus Lemonis tries to turn around a dog daycare center but walks away when the verbally abusive owner refuses to change. One of the reasons why I love watching this show is that Lemonis isn’t afraid of walking away from a bad deal.

Hulu followed that episode with the episode of “Nightmare Kitchen” that featured Gordon Ramsey walking away from the verbally abusive owners of Amy’s Baking Company. I’ve heard about this episode when I read news articles about the owners that are still having a social media meltdownfacing legal issues and retaliating against the critics months after the show aired. As I watched the episode, I couldn’t believe the number of F-bombs that the owners tossed at everyone who disagreed with them. I’m surprised that a “South Park”-styled counter wasn’t keeping track of how many times the F-bomb got mentioned.

If you watch enough episodes of “Restaurant Impossible,” where celebrity chef Robert Irvine spends $10,000 USD to turn around a failing restaurant, most owners are people who never worked in the restaurant business, paid too much money for their restaurant and have no clue on what to do next. There’s more to running a restaurant than opening a new store front, hiring staff and cooking food. Many of these people would have been better off investing their money into a stamp collection.

No surprise that Amy’s Baking Company falls into this all too familiar pattern.

The husband, Samy, a former house builder who gets out of the business long before the housing bubble popped in 2007, asks his wife, Amy, what they should do next. Her dream was to open a restaurant. He sunk a million dollar into the new business. She ran the kitchen, he ran the front desk. Somehow they managed to keep the business going for many years until a blogger writes a bad review that accused them of serving frozen pizza and business falls off dramatically.

Expecting Ramsey to use his reputation to fix their reputation from the “online bullies” boggles the mind. The frequent F-bombs at customers, stealing tips from the staff and serving undercooked frozen foods aren’t something that a celebrity chef’s reputation can paper over. As the cameras revealed on “Nightmare Kitchen” and other reality TV shows, the problems that business owners face are not always external. If they can’t look in the mirror to see the true source of their problems, they and their business will never change for the better.

The Kia Soul of The MTV Video Music Awards 2013

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I didn’t watch the Miley Cyrus-inspired disaster on the MTV’s Video Music Awards this year. (I never watched these things even when they weren’t controversial.) The only good thing to come out was the new Kia Soul hamster commercial, where the hip-hop hamsters hit the gym to Lady Gaga’s “Applause” song. Kia has gotten a lot of advertising mileage out of these hamsters. I was never a fan of the hamsters until the “In My Mind” commercial appeared in the theaters last year.

The Ho-Hum Sticker Shock of College Housing

Hand towerThe San Jose Mercury News wrote that the cost of campus housing exceeded the cost of tuition for San Francisco Bay Area colleges. A quick back of the envelope calculation for my college years as a young student (early 1990’s) and an adult student (early 2000’s) shows that housing was always more expensive. Other than the sticker shock that parents are going through at this time of year, I’m not sure why this is news in Silicon Valley. Being a starving student was never an easy task.

After dropping out of high school three months into the ninth grade and three days into the tenth grade, I stayed home during my high school years and taught myself from books, newspapers, magazines and public television. I worked with my father in construction for several years after I turned 18-years-old, decided that I didn’t want to work in construction for the rest of my life, and checked out the local adult high school program. They turned me away after I blew out their evaluation exam, saying that it would take me five years to complete my high school diploma, and sent me over to San Jose City College to earn a general education associate degree in four years.

My parents never supported me going to college and expected me to fail like I did with high school. For the first year, I lived at home with them for free. But each day I looked for cans and bottles in the campus garbage cans to earn the $250 USD I needed for classes and books each semester. My father and I took my mountain of recyclables in his truck to the recycling center each month. After I got a minimum wage job at the campus bookstore, I worked 30 hours a week for the next three years. My parents conceded that I wasn’t a total failure when I graduated from community college.

After I joined the campus ministry to become a Christian in 1992, I moved into a five-bedroom Victorian that was a former frat house in Downtown San Jose with 12 guys. The monthly rent was $200 USD each. That lasted three months before four of us got our own two-bedroom apartment that still cost $200 USD each. Three months of rent was what it cost to go to community college for a year.

Not long after we moved out of the Victorian, the city of San Jose restricted the number of garbage cans for pick up to three. A household of 13 guys put out seven trash cans each week. Like basic cable TV, no one wanted to pay for a dumpster. The last guy to move out called the landlord in the Midwest to inform him that all the original tenants on the lease moved out a decade earlier.

When I went back to college to learn computer programming as an adult student, I worked 60 hours a week as a video game tester, paid $1,000 USD per month for a studio apartment and Uncle Sam paid for my second associate degree with a $3,000 USD tax credit to retrain for a new career. I even made the dean’s list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in major courses. The cost of housing has exceeded the cost of tuition.

 

A Gentleman’s Club Comes To Downtown San Jose

Gold Club San JoseA gentleman’s club, The Gold Club, has recently opened in downtown San Jose, surprising some people because an announcement wasn’t made until last month. As nudity isn’t allowed, all the female employees will be wearing bikinis. Not surprisingly, the councilman who represents the district that the club sits in and other civic leaders are complaining about the inappropriateness that a bikini bar represents for a vibrant downtown. After visiting the Voodoo Lounge in Las Vegas for a Star Trek convention party, I doubt this club will matter much.

The biggest complaint about the downtown clubbing scene is that it doesn’t exist. If you want to go clubbing, you need to go to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Most clubs come and go so fast in San Jose that none ever found a steady clientele. If the police gets called in to break up a fight or two (the bouncers are almost always moonlighting cops), the club closes down faster than they can open. After a name change and/or a change of ownership, the club re-opens a month later and the cycle repeats itself.

As for the female staff members in bikinis, I suspect most of them will be skinny little things. While visiting Las Vegas, I noticed that the skinny little things wore bikinis on the strip or danced in skimpy outfits on the mini stages in the casinos, and women with hips were more clothing to sell cigarette or run the keno sheets. Skinniness versus hippieness is the dividing line for these types of establishments.

One time my friend and I went to Hooters in Campbell for dinner. All the waitresses were the skinny little things that I paid no attention, probably because they are 20+ years my junior and I prefer women with actual hips. Our waitress in the skimpy Hooters outfit for that evening looked like she was 16-years-old and wore braces, a combination that screamed jailbait like nothing else. We gave her a big tip for trying so hard at being sociable with us as we were disconcerted by her appearance.

Does San Jose need a red light district to stay competitive with the other big cities?

No, it doesn’t. I remembered downtown San Jose back in the 1980’s, where the prostitutes openly plied their trade and trash covered the streets. When the brand new convention center opened in 1989, my father and I caught the bus to downtown to attend the free car show. Downtown became a redevelopment zone that sent the prostitutes packing and construction dust covered the streets. After years of constructing new buildings and renovating old buildings, people are returning to downtown to live and work there.

But I doubt that a bikini bar will bring a wave of prostitution and crime to downtown as the critics claim. After the police clean up a fight or two inside, the club will have a different name and theme in a few months. Maybe the Chippendales will come to downtown.

Watching “The Profit” In Las Vegas

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While attending the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, my roommate and I had a role reversal between what we do in our off hours. After I come home from my tech job, I’m writing on the computer and he’s flipping through the TV channels with the remote. After arriving at our hotel room, I found myself flipping through the TV channels with the remote and he’s connecting with his Facebook friends at the convention on his iPad. A brand new reality TV show called “The Profit” on CNBC caught my attention.

Marcus Lemonis, a self-made multimillionaire, invests his own money to help owners turn around their struggling business by taking full control for a week and making practical changes in exchange for a percentage of the profits. He focuses on the Three P’s: People, Process and Product. A business needs two out of three to survive, but having all three working together creates more profit for the business.

The second episode of a six-episode season featured Jacob Maarse Flowers, a second-generation family owned florist business in Pasadena that the son, Hank, inherited after his father passed away. He proves himself early on as being a weasel more interested in sitting on his ass, collecting a paycheck and letting his mommy write the checks to bail out the business. When Marcus asked him why he doesn’t have the store phone number on the delivery vans, he doesn’t want to have customers calling because that means more work and buying more flowers. Not realizing that having too much business is a better problem than not having enough business.

Despite cleaning up the store, installing security cameras, equipping the vans with GPS and a wraparound graphic with the store phone number, Hank goes home before the re-opening party and doesn’t see how these changes will make a difference. He tries to reneges on a $150,000 USD investment for 25% of the profits and behaves like a spoiled brat when Marcus calls his mother on the speakerphone to demand his money back. The episode ends with Marcus planning to file a lien against the store building to get his money back. Later, while being interviewed on a different CNBC financial show, Marcus reports that the mother later returned his money.

Unlike the similar “Restaurant Impossible” with Robert Irvine on Food Network, where Robert often threatens to pull out if the owners refuse to change but somehow manages to reopen the renovated restaurant, “The Profit” doesn’t always have a happy ending because Marcus isn’t afraid to walk away from a bad deal. I find this refreshing for a reality TV show. Every business is different, few owners are willing to give up control and even the best deals can fall apart at the last minute.

After being a short story writer for seven years and an ebook publisher for three years, I’m in the process of reinventing myself and my business. “The Profit” is a very informative TV show that touches many of the issues that I’m facing as a business owner. I look forward to seeing the other episodes and the full season next year.

A Curious Tale of The American Guillotine

Execution By GuillotineIf you pay any attention to American politics, especially the virulent strain known as the Tea Party that have driven moderate conservatives out of the Republican Party, you get used to hearing about all kinds of conspiracy theories. One of the weirdest conspiracy theory is the United States government buying guillotines, the medieval device that the French used to chop the heads of political prisoners. Why would the government need to buy 30,000 to 50,000 of these contraptions?

The country does have a black president in the White House. The only thing God-fearing white people are afraid of the most is the ANGRY BLACK MAN who can rape and pillage, riot in the cities and destroy Western (white) civilization as we know it. (This was why Trayvon Martin got shot and killed in Florida.) Since the ANGRY WHITE MAN is dying off from old age, it’s only a matter of time before the country goes down the toilet.

The government could declare martial law and summary execute its own citizens at secret detention centers around the country for the following reasons:

The guillotine conspiracy theory doesn’t pan out.

If the U.S. government was buying guillotines, it’s the paper trimmers with the long blade that you pull up and push down by the handle. I’ve always wondered what to call those things besides paper trimmers. No grade school teacher ever called them a guillotine. Maybe because we—the white students who will grow up to vote one day—were gullible and stupid enough to believe that the guillotine might be used for something else besides trimming paper.

Getting Slimed At Work

After coming back from lunch at my non-writing tech job, I noticed a pair of heavy-duty hoses running from the men restroom, up a ladder in the hallway and into the plenum space above the dropped ceiling. I carefully stepped past the hoses and warily watched the ceiling tiles as I made my way back to my desk. I remembered the last time the AC units got worked on and rubber hoses ran through the plenum space at a different company, where someone almost got slimed at work.

While working as a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) in the late 1990’s, I became the intermediary between the Q.A. and I.T. departments when the company was still called Accolade at the Stevens Creek Boulevard office in San Jose. A long-running love/hate relationship had developed between the testers and the techs over the years. The biggest complaint then was that the techs ran a Diablo game server that slowed down the entire network during the lunch hour. The testers can’t read Blues News if the network crawled like molasses.

Management decided to upgrade the network infrastructure by replacing the network operating system (NOS), Netware (which didn’t allow more than 254 computers) with Windows NT Server (which was surprisingly stable for a Microsoft operating system), and changing the physical network from 10Base100 (10Mb over thin coaxial cable) to 100BaseT (100Mb over twisted pair cable) to increase the available bandwidth.

Since the techs weren’t welcome in the Q.A. department, my job was to upgrade all the computers with the new network cards and plug them into the wall. If a network issue went beyond the wall, I had to walk over to the I.T. department and try to convince them that the problem was on their end.

One day I was talking to the I.T. manager about something. His work area in the corner of a narrow room had a Viewsonic 21″ monitor. A very big, very nice and very expensive monitor. CRT monitors like that cost about $2,000 USD in 1998. A few years later, I would get a Viewsonic 19″ monitor for $400 USD. Since I wasn’t welcome to stand inside the tech room, I stood outside the doorway to talk him.

We were, in fact, talking about his new monitor when something started banging around in the plenum space to violently shake the ceiling tile. He pushed himself away from his desk to roll back in his chair. The ceiling tile broke into big chunks that gave away as green goo slimed his new monitor. We both got out of there. I left him alone as he had a complete meltdown over his ruined monitor.

The maintenance crew transferred coolant fluid between AC units on the roof by using an ordinary garden hose that had a weak spot that ballooned with green goo before exploding. Not sure why the hose through the plenum space and not on the rooftop. As for the I.T. manager, he went back to his old 17″ monitor.

Crashing Into The Ground At LaGuardia Airport

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After the airplane crash landed in San Francisco, my roommate reassured me that I had nothing to worry about for my first airplane trip that I’m taking on my birthday next month. Southwest Airlines flies the older Boeing 737 airplanes that are more reliable than the newer Boeing 777 airplane that crashed. And then a Southwest Airlines 737 crash landed at LaGuardia Airport after the nose gear collapsed and the airplane skidded to a halt on the runway.

Nothing to worry about.

As a child growing up in the 1970’s, it seemed like an airplane either crashing or being hijacked by terrorists every other week. Flying on an airplane got added to a long list of things that I would never do. Something I avoided for many years by never going anywhere far enough from Silicon Valley that couldn’t be reached by car.

As I got older in life, the list of things that I would never do got shorter. If I could get my driver license at the tender young age of 37, perhaps I could take an airplane to Las Vegas on my 44th birthday. That the Las Vegas Star Trek convention is taking place the same week I’ll be there is purely coincidental. Considering how much I paid for this trip over the last six months, not going isn’t an option.

I still need to get used to the idea of hurling through the sky in a cigar-shaped coffin, but these crashes aren’t helping that much. I’ll probably end up like William Shatner in The Twilight Zone TV episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” being carried out on a stretcher after losing it on the airplane.

Driving While Black In My Apartment Complex

Justice For TrayvonWhile the Trayvon Martin protests took place in a hundred cities over the weekend, I listened to Brian Copeland on KGO Radio. (Sign his MoveOn petition to boycott the state Florida until the “stand your ground” law is repealed.) Like President Barack Obama sharing his experiences of being a young black man in America, he shared of his own experiences from living in the East Bay during the 1970’s.

He dropped his car off at Jiffy Lube and walked over to Tower Records when a van cut him off at the gas station in San Leandro. A white undercover police officer jumped out with a gun, told him get down on the ground, frisked him while pointing the gun at the back of his head, called in his driver license on the radio, and let him go because he had no outstanding warrants.

On another occasion, he helped a white woman moved out of her dorm room. After they got on to the 580 in Oakland, a CHP officer pulled over the van that she drove and asked for his identification. When the officer returned from calling in his driver license info and founding no outstanding warrants, he asked the woman if she was okay and wasn’t under any duress from being with a black man.

An Oakland woman called in with a story about her eight-year-old nephew that also happened in the 1970’s. A neighbor around the corner called over to say that she had a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven. She told her nephew to walk over to pick up the cookies. Of course, he didn’t. A moment later she heard police sirens, ran out of the house and found her nephew in a chokehold by a white police officer. The poor kid pissed his pants from being terrified. She called a police officer she knew to come over to rescue her nephew from being booked in jail for running through the neighborhood.

Some white callers gave Copeland grief for “whining” about being a black man, provoking hatred between the races, and complaining about a problem that wouldn’t exist if black people stopped talking about it. If a black man could be elected President of the United States, most white people think we must live in a post-racial society. The real world doesn’t work that way—at least, not in my neighborhood.

One summer afternoon a few years ago I heard a commotion coming from the parking lot outside and walked out on to my balcony to see what was going on. An older black man stood with his wallet in hand next to his big car in the fire lane, and five San Jose police officers—three whites and two Hispanics—with hands on their holstered guns stood behind three police cars in the parking lot. A traffic stop being made this far back into the apartment complex was unusual. A black man screaming at the cops about driving while black for a half-hour was something else.

Although the SJPD has long denied committing any racial profiling, officers will have to record the race of any person they stop for any reason by the end of the year.

As a white man in California, I can’t ever relate to being a black man. Race isn’t something I think about at all. The only racism I run into as a “minority” technician among Indian engineers is finding only vegetarian pizzas for the catered meetings and special events at my tech job. No pepperoni and sausage for this fat white boy.

Kickstarter: The MegaTokyo Visual Novel Game

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My favorite webcomic, Megatokyo, has a Kickstarter project to create a Megatokyo visual novel game for the PC, Mac and Linux. A visual novel game is the Japanese version of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where you interact with the characters and decide what happens next in the story.

Megatokyo is about two American fanboys of manga, anime and video games, who are stuck in Tokyo after flying to Japan on a whim and can’t afford to go home. Piro is the normal guy looking for love in all the wrong places. Largo is the weird guy battling giant monsters and being a substitute teacher at a local school. A typical day for them can be quite strange, especially if an unscheduled zombie hoard is trashing Tokyo.

The response from fans was phenomenal. With an initial funding goal of $20,000 USD and stretch goals to $75,000 USD, the project has $250,000+ USD in pledges. I’ve pledged at the $35 USD level to receive all the digital downloads when they become available. If you’re interested in being the first to get this game, there’s still time left to make a pledge. The expected release date for the first part of the game is February 2014.

Updated 21 July 2013 @ 10:15PM Update: After all was said and done, almost 5,000 fans gave slightly under $300,000 USD. Check out the post on my writing blog.

The Finer Point Of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Cover

Bloomberg BusinessWeek Cover 07152013Bad enough that Bloomberg BusinessWeek got Silicon Valley’s history wrong, they took that wrongness to their recent magazine cover. If a hedge fund manager un-zipped his pants, either a manly green arrow shoots up to the heavens or something plops out to flop around like a dead fish. Erectile dysfunction at its best.

Interestingly, the video introducing the cover design in the magazine iPad app states that this cover wasn’t in reference to any particular article inside the current issue.

The feature article is about the former hedge fund manager who bought Sears, organized the retail chain into 30 business units to fight over limited resources, and the stores are battle grounds for wary customers. Maybe readers need to draw their own conclusion from the cover that the former hedge fund manager is something of a (failing) prick.

Back in the 1990’s, The Economist ran a cover with a pair of fornicating camels for a feature story on troublesome mergers. I think Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s new cover has managed to top that one off (pun intended).