Trash or Treasure it’s Yours

I recently gave a friend some advice that I realized I wasn’t following myself.

I suggested that he start a writer’s journal. I used to keep one when I was
in a creative writing class in high school. I liked it
and it was helpful at the time, so I told him he ought to do the same.  The
point of the journal is to hold onto interesting thoughts
or observations that a writer might use later.  My friend is thinking
of writing a novel but I thought the idea ought to be useful to me as a

Things that should go in to a writer¹s journal include, but are not limited

  • Metaphors and similes
  • Pretty turns of phrase
  • A starting idea for a creative project
  • Half-formed ideas
  • Observations (especially weird things people are doing on the bus)
  • Things that make you laugh
  • Anything that could go in a post, article or story somewhere down the line

The good news is I like my writer’s journal. I like feeling that
observations and ideas are not lost.  The bad news is, so far I haven’t
used anything from my writers journal in my own writing. Maybe I need
to get in the groove, maybe it is not going to be useful to me in the
short term but I can’t let these ideas go to waste.  So I’m dumping
’em off on you.  I figure my audience includes a lot of writers bloggers and
all around creatives. Maybe something here can be grist for
your mill.

Either way they are yours, use them as you see fit:

  • A sliding door made out of glass is called a “doorwall” in Wisconsin
  • It would be funny if a consultant had to advise in somewhere absurd: Hell, A child¹s imagination, the mind of a dog.
  • Trains are associated with Christmas even thought they have nothing to do with Christmas
  • Bad Acting can often be seen in: School Plays, Pornography, Action
  • Movies and Infomercials
  • The Loudness of Dress shoes
  • Small man, big hair, wide eyes (some dude at my buddies apt)
  • Women sitting alone in the window of a Thai restaurant is a visual story.  No date. Wine glass has one sip left in it. Typing away at her smart phone.

There you go world, if you can use ’em you can have ’em.

Mustache Weekend

Whether we conform to them or rebel against them we’re all, in some ways, defined by our commitments. Family, work, and rent are some of the basic ones, but there are millions. Generally people think of commitments defining them in a negative way, living for the weekend, being tied to a horrible mortgage or job.

But, commitment can also be a source of success pride and fulfillment. Think of your greatest accomplishments, would they have been possible without what you have committed to? It is hard to adjust to unemployment, retirement, or single life, not only because we miss some financial support or companionship, but also because we are partly defined by what it is we commit to.

I am enthusiastic about the idea of identity and the notion that who you are should be fluid. But some responsibilities limit the expression of identity. There are some clothes that are not appropriate for jobs. Some attitudes that are unhelpful in the presence of family. We hMustacheave to in conforming to any responsibility suppress some part of ourselves, and its only natural that we should look for a healthy opportunity to let that out. It was with this in mind that I embarked upon a mustache weekend.

I wouldn’t wear a mustache to an interview. I am no mustache man. My uncle Chris might be, I am not. But, for a break on a weekend its nice to look different, to be different then the person you are most of the time. It’s not dishonest it’s a break and a new approach, I enjoyed it.

But, tomorrow I’ll be happy to be clean shaven again.

Emily Claire Palmer – Live Performance from North and Clark Dinner Concert December 3rd

I had planned to bring you most of the performances from the North and Clark dinner, but we had an audio video meltdown at the last minute.  Luckily, my buddy Chris recorded a couple songs on his phone. The video quality leaves something to be desired but the music is what I really care about.

This is Emily Claire Palmer one of the three great performers we had that night.   I would call this the bootleg version, the version you might buy from a dude with a beard sitting on a blanket.  Emily is singing a song that could be called “New Sled.”  She has a gentle and sweet voice that she writes earnest and sweet songs for, and this is one of ’em.

Generating Revenue for the CTA (2 of 2)

Last week I outlined some rough ideas for generating more money for the CTA, this week I take those ideas more in depth.

Coinstar and the CTA Card

Coinstar is a great partner to grocery stores.  They have machines that take change and (for a small percentage) return paper bills.  It’s a device with low upkeep costs and a simple purpose that generates them income at all hours of the day.  It’s a logical partner for the CTA.

The CTA card creates a system where money is taken out of the general economy and turned into a resource that can only be redeemed at one place.  Any time the CTA can get someone to put money on a CTA card they have done a good thing.  If a customer puts money for fares on a card and doesn’t use the service they have already collected the payment, if through some enticement the customer puts money on a card uses the service when they might not have otherwise this is also good because taking on extra passengers doesn’t generally increase cost.  The CTA could modify the machines they already have or partner with Coinstar to make the machines for them.

Unlike a gas station or a car dealer there is no added cost for usage of the CTA’s service.  If people use the CTA more there is more profit.  Why not make it easier for riders to give the CTA their money?

Smart Phones and Bus Tracker

The CTA’s bus tracker is so useful and it’s one of the greatest things a smart phone does. But, I think this is just one of a couple ways the CTA can be using emerging technologies to improve its service and make more money.

One concern when riding the CTA is having correct change.  Especially now that the fair is 2.25 it is a particularly unlikely amount of money for a person to have.  There are a couple ways to get around this: a person can always have a well stocked CTA card or always have a pocket full of quarters.  Neither of these solutions appeals to me. I don’t want to take my money and put it in a position where it can only purchase one thing or get holes in my pants pockets from carrying around quarters.

What if you could with a credit card instantly purchase a bus fair over your phone? People already use their phones to make purchases online, why couldn’t those purchases be bus and train rides? If people are already on the CTA’s website checking on their bus it would only be logical for them to buy their tickets there.

I think Bus Tracker could also be made better, both in its utility to the customer and in its profitability for the CTA.  Anything that can improve Bus Tracker has the potential to make more people ride the CTA.  Bus Tracker could send a text message every time your bus passed your stop.  It would be easy enough to write an iphone app that would notify a person through text message every time a bus was passing (or even better when there was one in five minutes) so that if you were at a lunch you could wrap up early to get on the right bus or if it was cold outside you would not have to spend a minute extra waiting in the cold.  Unlike Bus Tracker where you would have to actively watch you could just relax and wait for your phone to ring.

Vending Machines

The Dunkin Donuts at the Davis street station does a brisk business.  While it is great that the franchises of that store pay rent to the CTA it would be better if all the money spent on coffee went directly to the Transit authority.  I am not suggesting that the CTA try to administer coffee shops or bake donuts, but I think that there is plenty of money to be made by taking advantage of vending machines.  It would be easy to sell coffee and snacks at CTA stations.  If they wanted to take the system one step further they could adopt something from the technology used at gaming places like Dave and Busters where by anyone who plays video games first puts money on a card. The CTA already has tens of thousands of cards in circulation why not create machines that could take those cards and provide coffee, snacks or newspapers.


There is plenty of advertising in CTA buses and trains, but they could be monitized more effectively

The value of the advertising space the CTA already has was illustrated when a private company put up a number of bus shelters around the city for the sold the ad space on them.  There is enough money from potential advertisers that this company put up the money to build and maintain these shelters.  Meanwhile, I know from being at the Francisco stop last night that there are a number of shelters that the city has already built that don’t even facilitate advertising.

It’s difficult for any agency with ties to the government to be as dynamic and innovative as other companies in the private sector.  The post office has long had trouble competing with federal express and the CTA has survived for generations.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved, and its too important that it keeps surviving for our generation to ignore it or take it for granted.

Generating Revenue for the CTA

Chicago needs the CTA. A big part of what is good about this city has to do with how much of the city is always within reach. Besides the grid and size of the streets there is nothing that has as much to do with that as the public transportation. The city’s economy depends heavily on how get around it and there is also the issue of air pollution and carbon output.

As I griped about here (link) the increase in fares out paces rises in transportation costs and inflation. While fares seem to be stable for the moment and rumors about the jump to three-dollar were overheated, I think that fare hikes are inevitable. The problem is if the CTA gets too expensive it will lose its utility as public transport. Hikes need to be avoided however possible. There are two ways for a company to slow down its thirst for cash flow it can address costs or revenue.  Because it is hard for me to speculate about the CTA’s costs I would like to focus on ways for the CTA generate new revenue without raising fares.

The CTA gets money from several sources the two principle ones are fares and government funding.  But, those are not the only sources of income the CTA also gets secondary income from advertisers retail tenants.  Any money coming from secondary sources is keeping the fares down or keeping money in tax payers pockets (if it can get through the bureaucracy in tact).

Examples of sources of ad revenue can be found in the advertisements on every bus and train most of them have ads both inside and outside of the vehicles.  In the stations themselves there are ads on walls.  Some stations such as the Davis stop on the Purple Line even have television screens showing ads.  There are also train stops that have businesses operating inside of train stations like the Dunkin Donuts in the Davis station.

Starting with the premise that any way of supporting the trains without increasing the tax or raising the fares is a good thing, I tried to think of ways the train system could improve and expand its secondary revenue generators. Tomorrow I am going to look at a few ways to do this by taking more coins, working more closely with smart phones, vending machines, and improving advertising.

World Cup Team Rankings

The World Cup is being drawn right now.  There has been much fuss about rankings and groups, so I decided to make my own rankings.  Admittedly, I am just a casual fan, and I know a good deal more about the top ten and those teams that play here in the Americas than the bottom 22 so feel free to let me know where I am way off or full of crap.

My ranking for teams in the world cup:

1)    Brazil
2)    Germany
3)    Italy
4)    Spain
5)    Portugal
6)    Argentina
7)    England
8)    France
9)    Netherlands
10)  Greece
11)  USA
12)  Mexico
13)  Algeria
14)  Serbia
15)  Cote d’ivoire
16)  Switzerland
17)  Denmark
18)  Slovakia
19)  Slovenia
20)  Chile
21)  Australia
22)  Cameroon
23)  Paraguay
24)  Nigeria
25)  Ghana
26)  Japan
27)  Uruguay
28)  South Africa
29)  New Zealand
30)  Honduras
31)  Korea Republic
32)  Korea DPR


Groups have been selected.  It looks like the USA has been reasonably fortunate with in group C with:

  • USA
  • England
  • Algeria
  • Slovenia

Meanwhile the Group of Death looks to be Group G with:

  • Brazil
  • North Korea
  • Portugal
  • Cote d’Ivoire

For full ranks you can follow yahoo’s coverage here

Everybody Gets to Vote Nobody Cares

People love to talk about the democratizing power of the internet.  They tell us that less expensive distribution and production, means more people can make music.  We also heard that as the internet becomes more important than the radio we are coming to a time where everybody gets to vote.

The problem is nobody votes.

There are a million services that now allow for feedback.  Social media has exploded and now rather than a couple of services that are interactive the whole internet will interact with you.  You can rate songs on iTunes, Ourstage, Spotify, and Pandora, but the majority of people the majority of the time don’t and more importantly don’t want to.

On blogs people who read but don’t comment are called lurkers.  But this evil sounding term applies to most of us most of the time (everybody but Charles).  A regular commenter someone who is:

  • Outspoken enough to write
  • Comfortable enough with technology to do so
  • Interested in the subject enough to have something to say

Even this “regular commenter” does not comment on everything that they read, hear or watch. I would count myself in this class and it is routine for me to look at over fifty pieces of media on the internet in a day and I never write 50 comments I wouldn’t be able to get off the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

So What? This doesn’t mean that we all need to fulfill our civic duty and talk about everything all the time, though if you do that here I promise not to complain.

It means when we are thinking about social media we need to remember that most of the people most of the time don’t want to be social.  Sometimes we want to passively consume.

Music is Not An Object

The Economist recently did an interview with record executive Roger Faxon (Head of EMI music publishing), it fascinated me and it got me thinking about the future of music.

Music is not an object

For years music has been made into an object.  There was a time when we wanted music to be an object–like a CD.  Some people still do want that.  But music is not an object and that makes it hard to make a living from it.

There was a time before anyone had this wrong-headed idea that music was an object.   “(In the past) You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience” (David Byrne).

The record, CD or tape have had their day, and while they continue to exist, their importance is going to shrink and shrink. “The object is not the thing people pay attention to, it’s the actual underlying music that they pay attention to.” (Roger Faxon).

Where does that leave the Record Industry and Music Business

The digital download has yet to save the music industry and I don’t think it will.  The record industries profits are still 80% from CDs 20% downloads and everything else.  But, that 80% is coming out of a smaller and smaller pie.

Digital Music

The problem is that if we can access music digitally, and often for free, why buy it?  “Any music that I want to listen to I can listen to at any time, (or at least that is the perception) and that makes me less likely to buy it.” (Roger Faxon)

Maybe there are other ways for record companies to make money, maybe there aren’t.  But, there is a need for what record companies did and still do.

“Somebody has to shine the spotlight on somebody” (Roger Faxon).

To some extent, new media fills that void.  People exchange information through social media and learn so much about the media they consume online.  My friends often discover music through sites like Lala, Spotify or Pandora. These avenues did not exist a couple of years ago.  That said, blogs, myspace and a couple of music sites cannot stand in for what a record label does, any more than iTunes can stand in for record stores.  They might help but they aren’t a complete solution to the problem of marketing a band.

I don’t have a solution either, but if you want me to feature your band on this site your welcome to write me an email.

Good News for the Artists

Many of the costs associated with making music have gone down.  Digital distribution is essentially free and recording costs have come down in recent years.

This is not without problems. While these pieces of music-making have been liberated for individual artists,  the artist’s responsibilities have swelled.  Deciding how to distribute music was the responsibility of a label.  Now, it’s up to the artist how much to partner with outside entities to produce, and distribute music.

The Better News

The music industry is no more music, than music is an object.  Though the industry struggles, it doesn’t mean that artists must do the same.  Musicians may have supported themselves by selling records, but that isn’t all they do.

The music listener isn’t going down with the ship either.  While we may lose permanence and tangibility in the form of a record, that doesn’t mean that there is less music or less engagement with music.  The history of listening to music didn’t end with the record, or the download, and it won’t end here.