Archive for October, 2009

If Rupert Murdoch Owned a Restaurant

October 14, 2009

If Keith Rupert Murdoch Owned a Restaurant and you walked in for dinner, it would probably have a very high-priced menu. (Mr. Murdoch is a very wealthy man).

Now, if you ordered a dinner from the menu, when the bill arrived, you might find a couple of charges for things like actually eating the food, water, cutlery and probably for a napkin (hey, laundering it costs money).

Where am I heading?

Well,  Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp owns the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and I happen to be a paid subscriber to the on-line edition – there is no other on-line subscription option. For this, I get access to the Journal’s website. I also get daily email updates on Business news and Technology news. Unfortunately, much of the content in these emails are repeats of  previous articles in the emails.

To paraphrase the New York Times’ motto “All the News Fit to Print” the WSJ’s motto could be  “All the News Fit to Repeat”. I  guess that I shouldn’t expect too much, even though my subscription has doubled in price in the past couple of years.

Apparently, with money being a concern,  (Mr. Murdoch’s compensation for the year ending June 30, 2009, was just under $20,000,000 according to , he’s decided that there are no more free rides. (Reminds me of the old bumper sticker  “Gas, Grass or Ass, nobody rides for free”). WSJ has an app on the iTunes website. The app is free but even if one is a subscriber, starting in 2010, it’ll cost to use it. Seems like the old restaurant approach isn’t so far fetched, is it?

Maybe in 2011, Mr. Murdoch will start to charge for actually reading the content on Maybe he’ll even open a restaurant in Houston.


Max Levine, Where are You or My 2 1/2 Least Favorite Stores in Houston

October 13, 2009

Who is Max Levine ? When I went to work at Foley’s (now Macy’s) in 1956, he  was the president of the4 store. He was a comparitively short man with a ruddy complexion, and slick coal black hair.

Max made it a point of going into every department of the store every day with 2 objectives:

1. To challenge the executives of the departments about what was selling, how many were sold and why wasn’t some better selling merchandise front and center.

2. The absolute cardinal sin was for customers not to be waited on or at least recognized.

The reason why I mention Max is to contrast Macy’s nee Foley’s with then and now. Going into Macy’s and Dillard’s, too, is to experience a violation of everything that made Foley’s great.

It’s easy to spot salespeople at the stores, they’re the ones doing stock work, blissfully ignoring customers or in the middle of a conversation.

Merchandise isn’t arranged for customers but for the companies’ arrangements with designers/manufactures. Apparently, the best way to sell the merchandise is to price it artificially high and then, run “sales”. And the companies are quick to blame poor business on “The Economy”.

The corporate executives like to pontificate on everything but customers and their shortcomings in customer service.

Just think, if Macy’s “stole” 20% of Dillard’s business, or vice versa, how much better business would be. But, that would defeat their excuses for losing business. I wonder, how often a store’s management really goes through their store like a Max Levine? I guess that they’re all executives and stuff like that is beneath them. They’re too busy!

And that’s why I no longer go into Macy’s or Dillard’s. They’re tied for last place and they’re losers.

What about the 1/2 store? That dubious honor goes to Best Buy.

Several years ago, a friend from out of town sent me a USB drive as a gift. The drives were comparatively new and it was my first one. Unfortunately, it was defective. I contacted my friend and he suggested I take it to Best Buy; that’s where he bought it.

So, I took it to my “friendly” neighborhood Best Buy where they refused to exchange it for the same identical one, because I didn’t have the receipt.  I asked to speak to the store manager and he too, point blank, refused to make an identical exchange.

A couple of months later I checked on the manufacturer’s website and the USB drive was a Best Buy exclusive. They did a good job of driving away a customer, and I’m an electronics junkie.

No, I didn’t ask my friend to send me his receipt. Instead, I drive 15 miles to Fry’s rather than 3 miles to Best Buy.

They “won the battle but lost the war”. I haven’t been in a Best Buy store since.

My 2 1/2 Favorite Stores in Houston

October 10, 2009

#1. The Apple Store in The Galleria.

I had to go to the store today to get my iPod Touch fixed (it died last night but Carlos fixed it and told me what to do if it happens again).  I’m always in awe about what an incredible store  it is. But, what really makes the whole experience so fantastic are the people. I can’t figure out how Apple gets a group of young people so technically skilled and so willing to be helpful, to work there. I’ll touch on this in my next blog, the 3 stores I dislike most of all.

Sitting on a stool, waiting for my appointment, watching everyone, customers and staff was a delight. For someone who only goes into a store reluctantly, I don’t want to leave the Apple store.

#2. Bering’s Hardware

I have an intense dislike of going into a hardware store, probably because I’m a total zero when it comes to being handy. But, I know that when I need something which I can only say what I need the “thingy” for, one of the salespeople always leads me to what I need and tells how to do what needs to be done. We used to live near the Westheimer store but now we’re close to the store on Bissonnet.  The two stores are both equal in great service. If there is a weak spot it’s the check out area. Sometimes it’s a great cashier. Sometimes it’s an indifferent cashier.

#2 1/2. Fry’s Electronics on 59S

When I get to Fry’s the first thing is the ease of handicap parking. To me, it’s the best in Houston. The selection is awesome. I’ve never gone there for something and not found a selection of what I’m looking for.

So, what makes Fry’s a 1/2, instead of a whole. Two things: First, Fry’s operation is set up for the convenience of Fry’s, not customers. I think that they do more paper work on a transaction than the government does.  Second, if you need help, you have to find it. The secret is to find a group of people standing around talking. I’ve found that if  I stand patiently,  someone will interrupt the conversation and tell you where to find what you’re looking for. Then, you’re on your own.

A process that would take about a minute at Bering’s takes 5 – 10 minutes at Fry’s. But, Fry’s is Nirvana for an electronics junkie like me

HSO- Awake or Asleep?

October 8, 2009

I see that Hans Graf is leaving HSO at the end of the 2012-2013 season. Hopefully, HSO will get a Music Director.

Yeah, I know that that’s Graf’s title but has he really filled that role? If one follows Graf guest conducting gigs ( he appears to spend as much or more time conducting away from Houston as he does in Houston. Generally, the local out-of-town reviews are pretty favorable. So, there’s no complaint about his music skills.

He is a good musician but like a ship with very good sailors, there still needs to be a ship’s captain and I have to question Graf’s performance in that role.

Reading the NY Times review of Alan Gilbert’s first night a Music Director on the NY Phil, Maestro Gilbert was out in the lobby greeting concert-goers. Just like here in Houston? NY knows Gilbert! (The Chronic-ill’s then music critic didn’t give Gilbert a very good review. He did go ga-ga over Graf.)

In San Francisco, mention MTT and people know it’s Michael Tilson Thomas.

Los Angeles is going wild over Gustavo Dudamel, the 28 year old new music director of it’s orchestra. They had 18,000 people attend a free concert with Dudamel conducting a variety of music types (read pop) as well as Beethoven’s 9th.

And, what’s happening here in America’s 4th largest city and America’s biggest hick town. Nothing! It’s business as it’s always been; don’t do anything new and unusual, other than doing Holst’s The Planets twice in 3 years. There really is more to English music than The Planets and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Who is Graf? Reading the Calgary papers, he wasn’t missed when he left When someone complained that Graf didn’t get involved in fund raising, Graf’s comment was that he wasn’t asked!

What has been Graf’s role in Houston? Apart from the obligatory society events, Graf is below Houston’s radar. He’s leading HSO into invisibility.

Let’s talk about programming. There is the recognition that a symphony needs to sell tickets but, is it attracting new listeners or programming the “golden oldies” for the gray-haired crowd. It’s called programming-out-of-fear. Eventually, they’ll all die and then what? Generations of American composers, from 1880-1950 have been ignored. Our exposure to English and Nordic composers (other than the occasional Sibelius symphony and a Rautavaara work) has been dismal. Even the mittel Europa Romantic era composers, other than Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler(?) have been ignored

Graf conducts more exciting programs with other orchestras than here. This week, he’s conducting a work by Giya Kanchelli in St. Paul. I guess that HSO doesn’t want to expose us to anything that isn’t mundane.

Let’s hope that HSO decides to create some excitement instead of “we have a tradition of not changing anything to uphold”

Yes, we do have two really innovative and exciting arts organizations. I’ll get to them shortly.

Hablo English!

October 8, 2009

I guess I’m wrong!

I used to think that English was the language of America but I guess that I’m wrong.

When I call Comcast, the first selection is “Press 1 for English”.

Why? I thought that’s what we spoke. Apparently, Comcast doesn’t think so. I wonder what would happen if a Russian-speaking friend were to call Comcast’s corporate office speaking Russian. Hmm?

Way to go Comcast. Soon, no one will speak English. For almost 300 years, we had waves of immigrants who adapted to America (as did my grandparents). Now, we’re adapting to immigrants. Which makes me wonder, if they didn’t want to adapt, why did they come here?