Friday, October 15, 2010

Napa Valley Taken Over by Foreign Occupiers

People from L.A. have taken over the Napa Valley.  They have recreated it in their own image.  This is not good.

It began eight to nine years ago.  At first the changes were subtle.   If you stopped at a Napa Valley Mom and Pop grocery store, you noticed that the dress code changed.  Instead of shoppers in jeans, t-shirts, Birkenstocks ...  there were women with lots of gold jewelry, nice black pants, and Manolo shoes on a Saturday afternoon.  A friend and I stopped by and we felt uncomfortable and underdressed.  This was weird.  We looked at each other and both said "L.A. people."

 In normal communities in Northern California, even very wealthy ones, no one dresses up.  Certain occasions -- a wedding, a funeral, Saturday night in San Francisco at a fancy restaurant or the theatre -- but that's it.   We like it that way.  This is a core value of a Northern California.

That was just the beginning.

Northern Californians occasionally go to the Napa Valley for wine tasting.   The tastings used to be free (25 years ago), and we Northern Californians would visit one or two wineries and purchase one bottle of wine or have one shipped.  But as more and more tourists came to the area, on vacation,  the situation got out of control.  Instead of *tasting* the wine, the tourists *drank* the wine, resulting in drunk drivers causing havoc.  The owners of the wineries did not want the Napa Valley turning into Disneyland for drunks, so they started charging for wine tastings.

Unfortunately that did not really solve the problem as the tourists started to treat the experience as going to a bar, ordering a drink, hanging around to drink the whole thing and "ordering" "another tasting".  They completely missed the point that if you tasted the wine and liked it, then you bought a bottle to take home and you left the tasting room without actually having an entire four ounce drink.

Maybe the Napa Valley winery owners needed to put out an etiquette book on wine tasting.  In any case, they were between a rock and  a hard place; they had no ability to differentiate between a normal wine taster who would purchase a bottle for later consumption, and a bar hopper.

Next came the bicycling phenomenon.  This was a sure sign of L.A. occupiers.  Bicycle rental places started popping up around the Napa Valley and the tourists actually rented them and rode them.   To understand why this was a terrible idea,  you need to know that the Napa Valley is agricultural like the Central Valley (home to Fresno). Both valleys grow grapes.  Both are flat, hot, and somewhat boring.   In the Central Valley the grapes become raisins.  In the Napa Valley, the grapes become wine.  Both products show up on your grocery store shelves (unless you live in one of those weird states where you cannot buy wine at the grocery store).  The Napa Valley has a few more rolling hills in spots compared to the Central Valley, but other than that, they are one in the same.

Now why would you ride a bicycle when it is flat, dry, hot (over 100 degrees Farenheit) and you just had the equivalent of eight ounces of wine?  Can you predict the results?  Maybe the emergency room doctors in the Napa Valley wanted more business.  The drunk driving car accidents get replaced by drunk driving bike accidents or they combine -- one car plus one bike accidents instead of two cars.  A real Northern California cyclist either commutes to work by bike and/or does recreational riding in a cooler area with more hills, and in no case, would a real Northern California cyclist consume wine first.  This is another core value of Northern California.

It seems the L.A. people who wanted to transform the Napa Valley into their own image, realized that there is actually NOTHING to do there (besides wine tasting), and decided to promote cycling as a tourist activity, and an activity for themselves, because  L.A. people actually bought homes (second homes) and moved to the Napa Valley.  I think they realized, after the fact, that there was nothing to do in the Napa Valley, and always concerned about their appearance, the, ahem, older L.A. people, embraced the full bicycling sartorial statement.  Now you see them walking around the Napa Valley shopping areas with their lime green and hot pink spandex outfits and their funny cleated bike shoes.  They are trim and tightly muscled from excessively working out, but the skin covering the muscles is old and sagging.  I am sure they think they look really good.  To me they seem really sad; they are clinging to some lifestyle and image that is so out of place, so unnatural and so unreal to the authentic inhabitants of the Napa Valley.

Finally, perhaps the saddest thing of all, is most Northern Californians can no longer afford to visit the Napa Valley, but can only drive through on a trip to somewhere else.   For several years now, the least expensive hotel is $300 per night on the weekend in the Napa Valley.  The decent and inexpensive chain motels in most California cities usually run about $125 - $150 per night.  These are hotels like the Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and so on.  These types of packages are not available on the weekends in the Napa Valley.  I guess the L.A. occupiers want to keep the riff-raff out.   If you are invited to a wedding in the Napa Valley on the weekend, that's what you will have to pay and the hotels that charge $300 per night are not twice as nice as the Hampton Inn.  In fact, they are about the same experience. 

So what can be done?  The L.A. occupiers have transformed the Napa Valley into something grotesque and unholy.  If you have ideas for putting it back to what it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, please add your comments.

Monday, September 06, 2010

the Kindle phenomenon - unpromoted benefits

I've had an Amazon Kindle for almost two years now.  I use it daily to read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and novels.  Reading novels on the Kindle is just like reading a paper back novel -- I never notice the difference.  Reading newspapers on the Kindle required a lot of behavior changes;  newspapers are organized very differently on the Kindle, but eventually I got used to it.

Now two amazing things about the Kindle that no one ever mentions:

1-books out of copyright
2-archival storage - the bane of information technology

First, if you have an interest in reading a published work that is out of copyright, you can get it on the Kindle for free, for $0.99, or it if is something really large, just a little more money.  I got the Complete Works of William Shakespeare for $2.29.   I got  Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott for free. 

All the press about eBooks revolves around the price model for new books, best sellers, deals with publishers, etc.  However, that misses the point.  Even at a used book store you cannot beat free or $2.29 for a really large or multi volume book.  This is the real deal with the Kindle; not everyone reads best sellers.

Second, archival storage.  I've got another blog coming up on archival storage and how no one has successfully found a solution.  So what is the problem?  In human history, the records that stood the test of time are the ones written on paper.  That is too bad.  Paper records require maintenance, organization, categorization, and so on.    In fact, a very large and significant portion of daily life at work and at home by individuals and by corporations requires dull and annoying tasks dealing with  the organizing, maintenance and storage of papers, documents, bills, records, and so on.

As I write this, I can see four piles of books, each about two feet high, stacked on the floor.  How many times have I packed up and moved this set of books?  What should I do with them?   Should I buy a new book case?  Why do I have them?  Will I will need to refer to them again?  Should I take them to the used book store?  With the Kindle, I never have to think about any of this.  Maybe Kindle should have a slogan like "Read Once. Maintain Never."   Or, "No Maintenance Personal Library."  The point is that the Kindle eliminates part of the problem of maintaining and organizing material stuff.   That is not in the same category as achieving world piece, or eliminating hunger.  But it does free up more time to work on the important problems.

Summary:  Older books you were planning to read someday are available instantly, mostly for free, on the Kindle.  Get as many as you want, because you don't have to physically store them any place.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In the middle of a war, the general hangs out with the staff of Rolling Stone magazine?

By now everyone know that General Stanley McChrystal made some injudicious remarks to reporters at Rolling Stone magazine. 

I, for one, forgive him, because I too have been seduced by the press and had my remarks taken out of context.  It takes real skill and experience to avoid that. 

But the more important question is how is it that General McChrystal would be communicating with Rolling Stone magazine when he is supposed to be focused on ending this very expensive Afghan war?

Does he see himself as a celebrity hanging out with the papparazzi?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Solar neutrinos heat up the earth's core?

Last night I watched the film "2012".  The premise of the story is that solar neutrinos penetrate the earth and heat up the earth's core so that it is boiling and destabilizing the earth's crust. 

What?  What kind of physics is that?  The writers must have studied physics at the University of Ganja.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

How can Warren Buffet live with himself and own Geico?

Just reading about yesterday's Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder meeting.  I have always admired Warren Buffet for his social consciousness and charitable giving. 

So,  I was stunned to learn that Berkshire Hathaway owns Geico.  Geico is an insurance company that advertises quite a bit, but apparently does not facilitate claims processing, which is, of course, the number one thing you would want an insurance company to do.

A google search on "Geico sucks" yields 136,000 hits.  Compare this to:
"Farmer's Insurance sucks" with 35,000 hits, or
"State Farm Insurance sucks" with 50,000 hits.

Any very large organization will, at any given time, have some percentage of dissatisfied customers, but Geico seems to be far over the top.  Perhaps this is no surprise since Geico sells its very low insurance rates, and does not claim to have pro-active and timely customer service.

Still, it is disappointing to me that Warren Buffet would own a business that takes advantage of average folks who are just trying to save a little money on their car insurance.  That just doesn't seem to square with Buffet's values.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The best of New York

Since I became a Kindle owner, I also started reading the New York Times every day.  I miss living near New York.  The Tribeca Film Festival is just starting with 132 films in 12 days from 38 countries.  I  would love to go. In fact, every time I read the NYT, I wish I were in New York to see one thing or another.

The Santa Cruz Film Festival is May 6-15 and has 133 films from 13 countries.  Somehow I don't think it will be comparable.  I suppose I should go.

Also in New York is "FELA" a musical about a Nigerian revolutionary.  Then there's a rock musical called "Bloody bloody Andrew Jackson" about the 7th president, who was a solider who believed in taking no prisoners.

I want to see these plays just because the premises are such wild ideas.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A theory of layoffs

Silicon Valley does layoffs periodically regardless of the state of the economy. It is clear that our current recession is sufficiently serious that layoffs are necessary to reduce costs and ensure survival.

Layoffs don't happen in the way that you think they should.

You would think that the senior management of the company would look at the overall operation and figure out which groups perform the least essential function of the company, and either eliminate the group or retain just a few key staff from each group.

But that is not what happens.

The senior management abdicates the responsibility for the layoffs to the second level managers (and sometimes first level managers are included). These managers use a different set of criteria; they consciously or unconsciously select the people on their teams who are the most difficult and most challenging to manage.

We all know who these people are.

Some of them are eccentric and quirky, maybe not socially gracious, maybe not poised, but at the same time they have insights, ideas, and points of view that no one else has. Those ideas can lead to breakthroughs that are essential to the future of the company.

Some of them are very passionate about their ideas and aspirations for the company's product or service; they openly argue with their manager to do what they think or feel is right. They are managing from the bottom up; they like to figure out the game plan and persuade their manager. They do not want to carry out orders from above.

So what happens? These are the people who get laid off because they are the most difficult to manage; they are "the problems". The first and second level managers have made their life a lot easier. All the remaining staff know their place, are socially gracious, and everything is lovely without those troublemakers.

However, over the next three to five years, the company does not have any breakthroughs, new ideas, new dynamic product and service offerings. The company just becomes a resting place for drones. Then it dies a slow death.

The solution is that the senior management should not abdicate; they should identify the creative quirky individualists with their passion and their ideas. They should take steps to protect them from the layoff process.