Monday, March 31, 2008

(Tribe 2008): Opening Day!

The new logo of what was once fondly known as The JakeFollowing months of anticipation and breathless counting down of days Sarah and I took in the opening game of the 2008 Cleveland Indians season down at The Ja... er, Prog this afternoon. Luckily, there were no snow-outs at this year's opener (amazing, considering Cleveland was wrapping up its snowiest March on record), there were even had a few moments of actual shadows on the playing field, and the forecast rain showers thankfully never appeared.

The U.S. flag: full extension.The extended opening ceremonies, starting off with a big "Best Of The 2007 Season" clip anthology playing on the scoreboard, were pretty cool. A few moments later, "The Voice Of The Indians" himself, Mr. Tom Hamilton, appeared at a lectern in front of home plate and introduced the entire Indians lineup, right on down to the strength trainers. While all of this was going on, a flag nearly the size of the whole honkin' outfield was unfurled, along with a color guard presentation and some other people holding giant stars at hip level, looking like they were about to start blanket-tossing people at any second. The singing of the National Anthem that capped off all of this was, of course, sung in that American Idol contestant "Hey, I Can Sing Like Mariah Carey, Too!" style (you know, stretching the word "light" into about 6 syllables) that never ceases to drive me up the wall.

A look down the third base side of The Prog.Sarah and I attended a game against the Chicago White Sox last September, and while that one was mostly a depressing snooze (Cleveland was completely blanked by Jose freaking Contreras, for chrissakes), today's contest was far more interesting on all levels. At times more of a sloppy shootout than the pitcher's duel we had hoped to see, the game certainly managed to keep your mind on the field as Chicago quickly staked a two run lead that would switch hands three times before the end of the day.

Staff ace C.C. Sabathia was not exactly in Cy Young form, and a rather underwhelming effort from the Cleveland bullpen eventually left the big lefty with a no-decision. As it was, Sabathia was lucky in that respect: while the Indians did ultimately manage to win the contest by a final score of 10-8, most of the team's runs were scored in the second inning, during which the Tribe inflicted a ghastly 37.8 ERA on normally formidable White Sox starter Mark Buerhle.

Raffy B.. Dealing.Sarah was delighted as her hero, the indomitable Rafael Betancourt, not only managed to stop the defensive bleeding by walking one hell of a tightrope through that bizarre eighth inning, but was also finally awarded the win, though a typically dramatic ninth inning tightrope walk by Brodzoski (The Close) briefly made hearts skip a beat around the Indians Nation.

1 down, 161 to go.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Headline News

It finally feels like the winter of 2007-2008 is winding down at last (or at least the worst parts of it). That means baseball season is right around the corner ... hell, tomorrow, now that I think about it. Thus, with the 2008 Cleveland Indians season about to kick off at last, followed hopefully by a rare early spring (hey, spot me some optimism once in a while, ok?) it feels like a great time for a long-promised full "life update."

First things first, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have me a new toy: the apparently already-outmoded Sony Cybershot DSCW-200: a combination treat to myself and a needed accessory in the wake of our last camera's unexpected demise right before the end of baseball season last year (and just before the Central Division clinching game, to make matters worse!). This new guy is a leap forward from our old Cybershot, offering a whole range of shooting and setup options which I am still figuring out as you read this, not to mention far more detailed picture and movie quality than what we were used to before.

In addition to providing all kinds of new pix for this here blog, my new little gadget will also be contributing heavily to my recently-created Flickr site, where I've been busily editing and assembling photographic galleries for your viewing pleasure. A couple of Tribe games that Sarah and I attended last fall are already up on the space as you read this, soon to be joined by tomorrow's contest, some pix of the kitties, the store, and whatever else I get in the mood to shoot over the coming months.

While we're discussing all-things internet related, there will be some big changes pretty soon around these parts, and I suppose now would make for an opportune time to hip y'all to what's coming up. First off, this blog will very soon be known instead as The Cantaloupe Machine. Some of you may remember this to be the name of a music-only blog that I started to mess around with a couple of summers ago and never really kept up with as simply creating content for one of these things (let alone two) was eating up more time and thought than I was willing to invest at that point. Since I always liked that name "The Cantaloupe Machine" much better than I Am A Bug, I've decided to resurrect the name at this location rather than simply wipe it out. Thus, the original Cantaloupe Machine has been deleted and the posts that were hosted over there will be reverting back to this space in re-edited form over the next few months once I finish wrapping up the Twenty Years series (which is about 1-2 posts from completion as of right now).

Going along with the renaming of this blog will be a re-formatting to change up the basic look of this place a bit. Don't worry, I'm not looking to drench my content in day-glo yellow with pink polka dot highlights or anything like that, but I do want something just a bit "busier" looking than the rather austere design I've been using here since late 2004.

Sarah's new job seems to be progressing pretty well, though by dint of her working environment alone, it's certainly a far more stressful affair for her than Case had been. As she is fond to quote from Ghostbusters: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything! You've never been out of college! You don't know what it's like out there! I've worked in the private sector. They expect results."

Stress has been a shared element around here ever since last summer, when Sarah left Case and spent some time on the dole and I was finding myself with an evaporated bank account (again) after my root canal and crown. For her, many recent headaches have been due to her car's recent systematic breakdowns as nearly every possible thing that can go wrong has done so over the last few months. This puts much more stress than I'd like on the aging Beretta that I've been driving as she needs to use it to get to work, being that we live about six times farther from her place of employment than mine. Conveniently, the Beretta is now developing some issues that will need attention shortly ... assuming I can do so after my own maintenance dues are paid, and that is a situation that is also developing in unpleasant new directions lately.

I've already paid up on the first of two crowns I'll be getting this year from my dentist (the prep for this one was a couple weeks ago now, the completed crown will be in next Monday), which is no big issue as these procedures were part of my financial plans for this year since last fall. However, some new discomfort has been nagging at me over the last couple of weeks from beneath the site of my crown from last year, which has me worried that something about the root canal (done by an endodontist at Aspen Dental in Mayfield last summer) that preceded the placing of that crown may have gone wrong.

Now, if the above is indeed the case (and I hope to figure this out after my next crown placing via. an x-ray or two), I have no idea what to do about it or how to proceed with possibly un-doing and re-doing all of that work from last year. I do know that my dentist plans to send me back to that endodontist if the discomfort fails to improve by next week (on the assumption that this might be some kind of late-breaking infection, I've been on Amoxycillin for a few days now), but unless the x-rays show something is demonstrably wrong beneath that crown, I have no idea what to even ask the endodontist to do about it. If the procedure was done wrong the first time around, I get the funny idea I'm not going to get much of a break on having it done over again ... and if doing so also involves creating and placing a new crown afterwards, my slowly recovering finances will spin right out of my control yet again.

There have been a couple of new developments on the money front lately that have greatly helped with the bills and getting myself back to being caught up (which is basically where I am now). Knowing I'd be facing a couple grand more in dental work this year, as well as needing to start seriously setting aside some kind of money for a possible replacement for the Beretta, I decided back in January to open a store on amazon.com in order to start generating some side income to get me over the coming springtime hump. After a couple of weeks of absolutely nothing happening, suddenly I started selling some of my older CDs and movies right and left. A few weeks later, I mentioned how my little operation was doing to Greg, and he started selling some items through my store as well (and paying me a generous commission for it at the end of every Amazon payment cycle).

By the middle of March, through a combination of my own sales and a portion of his, I'd made enough after expenses to wipe out the first crown prep and placement, and that more than anything else is what allowed me to catch up with bills after over six months of being behind. With another crown (and whatever else awaits) still on the horizon, I'm not out of the woods just yet, but I'm definitely optimistic that keeping my little online operation going a few more months will help make the worst of the expenses yet to come a bit easier to handle.

Work itself has been a bit touch and go from a numbers standpoint, though business overall seems pretty steady compared to last year. The big problem we have is that blizzard a few weeks ago in particular gave us one hell of a black eye, landing on one of the busier non-holiday weekends of the year. Thus, in the space of two awful days, the month March instantly became a lost cause.

Obviously, we're looking to make that lost business back over the rest of the year, but with the other two months of this year so far coming in at "flat" or "just off by a hair," and the general shaky state of consumer confidence and the economy as a whole, those two days might actually become the difference in our year unless we can catch a break. Then again, in modern music retail, flat is the new up, and Greg is still confident enough in our ability to lure business that we're in the process of negotiating our next five-year lease.

Finally, in perhaps the one shining ray of truly good news I've had so far this year: I actually made back a handful of money on my tax returns at both the state and local level (which in all likelihood means I did something wrong, heh heh). Sure, the combined amount I made back won't even fill my gas tank, but hey, a small victory sometimes means just as much as a big one.

Go Tribe!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Last Arctic Blast (?)

Looking south towards the now walled-off Route 2.Ok, this is getting a bit silly.

Weather-wise, March has been a complete bitch of a month around here. Exactly two weeks after the biggest snowstorm I can remember since I was 8 or 9 years old slammed into the area (and gave our sales figures a serious black eye that might take months to make up for), one more late season snow storm crept into the area Friday night and wound up dumping another foot of snow all over Lake County.

The snowglobe of spring.If nothing else, this gives me the opportunity to introduce you all to the imaging powers of my new Sony Cybershot DSC-W200 digital camera. As I write this, we are only 8 days from the first game of the 2008 baseball season at Progressive Field (which is half the reason I bought this new toy in the first place). I am becoming more and more sure by the hour that I'll be watching this game in a scarf, gloves, two sweaters and a winter hat. :-\

Me standing in the midst of the maelstrom.Happy Easter from Northeast Ohio!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Intermission

A blizzard (but not this year's version).If last week's Ice Storm From Hell wasn't enough to make me sick to death of this endless winter (hacking through the 1/8" thick sheet of solid ice covering my entire car after work last Tuesday took a week's supply of brute force), then an epic blizzard on Friday and Saturday sure as hell was. We all knew it was coming, and it showed up right on schedule and dumped something like 2 feet of snow all over the place by the time it was over.

The shittiest part of this, predictably, was that I had to be at the store on Saturday morning in order to squeeze whatever blood from the proverbial stone that could be squoze out of that day, and what a complete freakin' disaster that was.

Business-wise, I suppose the workday itself could have been worse as far as people were concerned: generally, the folks who show up at the store on days like that are not the bright bulbs you'd care to be snowed in with ("WOW, MAN! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GUYS WERE DUMB ENOUGH TO BE OPEN TODAY!" they typically exclaim, perhaps not catching the irony in their own words). With only, uh, eight customers in the store the entire time I was open, it was a pretty peaceful day all things considered. I got some shelving done, shoveled and salted the front walk, caught up the orders, et cetera. As the afternoon wore on and the visibility actually worsened (it was maybe 250-500 feet on the way in that morning), I was given the green light to get the hell out of Dodge before sundown. We closed a bit later with a pathetic sales total, about three grand short of where we were shooting for. That was pretty bad, and on top of an abbreviated (and dead) Friday, and an abbreviated (and dead) Tuesday (a lot of Tuesdays recently have sported pretty terrible weather, come to think of it), the month of March is already looking like a lost cause unless we can turn this boat around in a hurry.

While the day itself was tranquil, the drive home (in the middle of a Level 2 Snow Emergency, whatever the hell that is), was a complete nightmare. I closed the store at 5 P.M. and waded into the parking lot drifts to get my car warmed up, and let it idle while I re-shoveled the front walk. When everything was finally ready, I jumped into the car, popped it into reverse, and floored it, going about five feet or so backwards before getting hung up in another drift (the snowplow guy had just showed up as I was leaving, and he had a long way to go before he reached my part of the lot). After some gunning of the engine, I headed back into the store to retrieve the shovel and dig myself out, openly cursing our decision to open up that day.

By the time I had finally burst out of that drift, it was nearly 5:30 and I was so happy to finally be moving that I neglected to realize I still had the shovel in my passenger seat until I was more than halfway home. Ugghhh... HULK SMASH.

No, wait! My co-worker (Brian) lives on my way home now! I can just drop by his place and leave the shovel with him since he is working on Sunday anyway!


Wooo! Great idea!


Oh wait ... back up. Hold it right there.

Whaaaat?


When you went back into the store to grab the shovel to dig yourself out, you didn't remember to lock the door behind you when you left, did you?


Awwwwww shit!


Yeah, thought so.

So, I turned around angrily and returned to the store, taking care this time to stick to the plowed areas of the parking lot (and very nearly getting stuck again anyway). Luckily, I had indeed left the door unlocked, so the trip back was certainly worthwhile, if aggravating.

It was about halfway home again when my mind chirped again: hey, uh, didn't you intend to bring home a bag of packing supplies?

You know what? Screw the goddamned packing supplies.

Roger that.


Right now, the roads are clear and dry, and snow is piled up in conical sight line-blocking hills all over the place. Perhaps it's me, but I detect a bit of a bias towards SUV drivers in the way snow piles are arranged at the front entrances of plazas and driveways, completely blocking your car-eye view of oncoming traffic. Getting out of our plaza at work has become a pretty dangerous proposition since Saturday afternoon. Here's hoping the melt-off hits quickly before someone gets killed.

Anyway, the suffering is only in the here and now. Three weeks from today (and, hopefully, about 20 degrees-and-change north of our current temperature), Sarah and I will both be in attendance down at the Jak ... uh, Progressive Field for Opening Day 2008. With a bit of luck, we'll soon have a bitchin' brand new digital camera with us in order to take plenty of slick pix of the day's events, followed with mucho footage of the kitties, the condo and points all around the area (and I'll soon be putting up a link to the Flickr account you can scope 'em all out at).

Courage.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Wal-Mart stirs CD pricing pot with multi-tiered plan

The Wal-Mart logo. Squint hard at their sign the next time you drive by a location (but now while you are driving).

Wal-Mart stirs CD pricing pot with multi-tiered plan


By Ed Christman Sat Mar 1, 9:14 PM ET

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The major music companies have been resistant to lowering their price on CDs, but now they may be dragged to that point: Wal-Mart, the largest retailer of music with an estimated 22 percent market share, has proposed a five-tiered pricing scheme that would allow the discounter to sell albums at even lower prices and require the labels to bear more of the costs.

According to sources, the Wal-Mart proposal would allow for a promotional program that could comprise the top 15 to 20 hottest titles, each at $10. The rest of the pricing structure, according to several music executives who spoke with Billboard, would have hits and current titles retailing for $12, top catalog at $9, midline catalog at $7 and budget product at $5. The move would also shift the store's pricing from its $9.88 and $13.88 model to rounder sales prices.

Executives at the Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounting giant wouldn't comment on the specifics of their promotion, but Wal-Mart divisional merchandise manager for home entertainment Jeff Maas acknowledged the proposal. "When you look at sales declines with physical product, and you have a category declining like it is, you have to make decisions about what the future looks like," he said. "If you have a business that is declining and you want to turn it around, it really takes looking at it from all angles."

Maas referenced the DVD business as a model for tiered pricing. "(It) has been around for years and has worked very well," he said.

While Wal-Mart's negotiations with the labels have yet to take place, the proposal is already causing agita at the majors. Some consider the proposal a non-starter, others say further negotiations might eventually yield a workable solution, and a few see it as appropriate, given the big picture.

"I don't think this is a Wal-Mart discussion," one top executive at a major label said. "I think this is a future-of-the-business discussion. Right now everyone is paralyzed."

Some executives raised the question of whether the Federal Trade Commission would take issue with such a program were it rolled out only to Wal-Mart. But one executive said, "Making it legal is not the difficult part. The difficult part is coming to terms with it."

Another top executive said, "The decision might come down to: Do we give up 20 percent of our business (i.e., Wal-Mart) in order to not lose the entire business?"

That question assumes that Wal-Mart would either penalize or stop doing business with a major that decides not to participate in the pricing program. Moreover, if all majors take a pass, some speculate that Wal-Mart could pull music entirely from the store.

This type of speculation abounds, although the Wal-Mart proposal was presented only as a starting point. One label executive said, "This sounds like the Hail Mary pass, and if it doesn't work, they could be out of the music business; or maybe they reduce music down to a couple of racks" from the 4,000 titles carried by Wal-Marts with larger selections.

Maas declined to rule out those possibilities, but said he'd rather look at how Wal-Mart can help a declining category. "The customer votes every single day in our stores, and based on what they want is how we merchandise our stores."

Reuters/Billboard



Ruh roh, Raggy ...

Dear Music Industry,

Don't you just love it when the 800 pound gorillas you helped create start throwing their weight around and now have you bent over the proverbial barrel? Looks like your biggest customer is gonna start a whole new game of hardball and dictate terms to you, the very people whom they pay to supply them with their music stock. Funny old world, isn't it.

I can see you all sitting in the meeting rooms, throwing up your hands and crying poverty and maintaining to anyone who will listen that Wal-Mart is asking for the moon and stars, yet at the same time I can hear the wheels turning upstairs as you try to think of how this idea might .... just might ... bail your asses out of the frying pan, at least for the short term. We all know how seductive short term thinking is for you guys, but before you pick up the pen in desperation and sign on to this agreement, try just for once to think beyond the next quarter and walk this thing through. I'm not saying "NO! DON'T DO EET! EET'S TOO SEXY!!", but asking in effect how you're going to handle the rest of your business if you give in to your rampaging pet monster once again. What next? Will an almost certainly enraged Best Buy get the same pricing consideration when they angrily demand it? How about Target? One-stops? Independent accounts?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see how all of this falls into place. Depending on how serious Wal-Mart is with this idea (and whether they use it as a "either you are with us or against us" tactic to get their way), I get the impression this deal will not get off the table in its present form, but I can't rule out the idea of a compromise reached by all parties, especially as Sony/BMG and Universal are already experimenting with deep-discounting their lower-priced catalog tiers in a pricing fashion similar to what is in this article. If these new promotions are tied into the proposal reported above, it's not very difficult to imagine WEA and The Company That Was Once Respectfully Referred To As EMI falling into line.

I'd be delighted to see an across-the-board re-figuring of pricing strategies from the label, but I want to see these new prices offered to everyone, not just the one or two companies who can scream louder than all the others combined. That said, remembering how Universal caved in to these guys in the wake of the JumpStart kickoff, I'm also bracing for bad news.

I guess this is where Matt Drudge would say "developing ..."