28 March 2008

Greg Oden Pickup Thread

You may have seen the ESPN report of top NBA pick Greg Oden playing in a pickup game at a local gym (he had microfracture surgery, the same as CC). Here is the original forum post where he was outed.

The Future of WordPress Themes

Thanks to the emails and comments regarding help with WordPress/redesign. I'm still investigating but will keep you posted.

As I've been researching, I found this article on ThemeShaper regarding the Future of WordPress Themes. Eleven leading designers give their two bits about where things are headed. I'd strongly recommend reading this then exploring more.

I'm prepping for a meeting in an hour (currently in Rock Hill, SC). Wish me luck!

27 March 2008

U2, the Band of the Future

circa 1980

"I Will Follow (1980)

Ireland (1980)

26 March 2008

Request for Help

I'm looking for a WordPress/SEO guru to help me with a redesign of this site, as well as give me further guidance for where/how to host this (as well as if WordPress is the right thing to migrate to or not). I have a design mocked up to use to discuss to get started. I'd like to be able to advertise on the site and hosting can be paid for if that matters. Please email me at csquard@gmail.com or leave comments. Thanks.

Britney Clip

I don't know if I was expecting this, but Britney Spears' stint on "How I Met Your Mother" was a terrific guest spot on a really great episode. You can sf.

25 March 2008

Condensed Milk=Caramel

Condensed Milk=Caramel
Originally uploaded by csquard

Totally bizarre from my eldest son's Social Studies project (cooking a dish found in Latin America). This Argentine cookie recipe called for two lemon cookies with a filling in between. The filling was made by boiling a can of condensed milk (in the can without opening it) for three hours. The milk becomes caramel. It didn't explode or anything; they just had to keep water over it and keep checking on it for the three hours. A fun thing to try with your kids (or no kids) next time you want something yummy!

24 March 2008

Should the Government Ease Foreclosures?

Senator Hillary Clinton called for Federal intervention in the US Housing Market problems, with recommendations of using $30bil to directly assist states, cities, and homeowners facing foreclosure. "That's why I'm calling for the creation of a one-time emergency $30 billion fund that would go directly to cities and states to address the housing crisis," said Senator Clinton (text of the speech published in the NY Times). "This money could be used to purchase foreclosed or distressed properties, which cities and states could then resell to low-income families or convert into affordable rental housing. It could be used to help neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates avoid increased crime and blight by investing in everything from police and fire support to graffiti removal and better lighting. It could be used by local agencies to provide counseling and refinancing to help families avoid foreclosure in the first place."

Is intervention a good idea? Let's be clear about why a financial institution forecloses on a property: because the debtor fails on repayment. Let's be clear why a debtor fails on repayment: because he/she lacks the liquid funds required to make the payment month after month. Let's be clear how this could happen:
  • Unforeseen circumstance This may include loss of income for an extended period of time or drop in income for an extended period of time, among other reasons.
  • Financial decisions that are risky This may include buying a house that one cannot afford (too much house for not enough income), spending on other things that put a mortgage payment at risk (e.g., stuff like TV's or automobiles), committing to an adjustable rate mortgage which allows the debtor to buy a more expensive property by lower payments for a period of time.
  • Inflation and increases in expenditures If general expenses for a household increase significantly more than income over a period of time, then there will be less income to devote to a "fixed" cost like a mortgage payment. This may include increases in costs for health care, vehicles, tuition for children, and other budget items which may be added as well as broader inflation of items including fuel and utilities.
Financial institutions involved in financing homes make their money from fees, from timely payments of their loans, and from minimizing their risk (including defaults). As more financial institutions transferred more of their loans elsewhere, more of their income was derived from fees associated with originating new loans, home equity loans, and refinances.

For the American homeowner, this is not to me a cryptic story of the "...unscrupulous mortgage broker..." preying on the unsuspecting renter who all of a sudden decides to buy a home. Nor is it those with home values now underwater, although clearly this is a horrible situation that many from the Bay area remember none to fondly from their last housing bubble in the Internet-inspired frenzy.

No, this is more to me about too many wanting too much. How many of us plan for 10-20% less income each year? I confess I do not, nor am I anything approaching fiscally perfect in my household. Yet there are levels of fiscal responsibility that each of us has to live with. For some, they are able to take on great risk with hopes of a big payoff in a business or an investment. For others, they take on not risk but simply greater consumption for a lifestyle that delivers happiness or lessens melancholy, however fleeting. For still others, they live frugally to a fault, never spending yet delaying their enjoyment of their wealth.

None of these are the right path toward long-term security and joy, yet each of these have their own downsides. Intervene in those downsides, and what does that say to all of us remaining. I remember telling my broker in the Fall of 2000 that I wanted to sell a stock that had reached $200/share only be talked out of it. I finally sold the shares a couple years later at $10/share. Would I like to sue to get that $190/share difference back? Sure, but it was my decision. No one did this for me or to me, it was me and me alone.

This may be too indicting, and as many things I ask for consideration in my lack of expertise in this area that I type away in. One man's thoughts and opinions, for your consumption. And as always, eager for any thoughts on the matter.

Football in the Year 2000

Mostly off in Frank DeFord's article written in September 1979 about the changes coaches and an inventor working with the NFL predicted for the NFL 2000 edition.

Back from Easter Sunday

Cliffs at Glassy Chapel
Originally uploaded by csquard

Just a quick hello after a great weekend. Caught this photo as my middle son and I left a sunrise service Sunday morning.

21 March 2008

My Teapot Photos

Teapot #17
Originally uploaded by csquard

I've just completed putting up photos of the seventeen teapots I've given my wife for our anniversary (plus one on our wedding day). Have a great weekend and Easter. We're heading to the mountains north of G-Vegas, so a trip report and photos on Monday.

Obama: PowerPoint vs Talking Good

I admit it. I was an early PowerPoint Ph.D. in my career, at one point thinking primarily through PowerPoint. There has been a big backlash in the last few years as the application has become ubiquitous in corporate meetings.

Here is a good example of the data contraction ills of PowerPoint vs the elegance and power of talking. The first is an eleven slide pitch prepared by Peter Abilla and discussed on schmula.

Well done, sir. On a side note, if you've never looked at the work of Edward Tufte, you're really missing out on something. He's one of the world's leaders in visual presentation of information. I've had his book, "Visual Display of Quantitative Data," for several years. Amazon.com named it one of the best 100 books of the 20th Century, which is a pretty nice endorsement (btw, I couldn't find such a list via Google...).

And with that, I signed up for his course in the ATL on Tuesday. I didn't realize he was in town, so I'm pretty excited to do this. I miss formal education from my days in Corporate America. Trip report to follow. You can find a podcast from NPR with Tufte here.

Stumbling Upon a Gem

Originally uploaded by csquard

Our middle son is in 4th grade and chose the cello when looking to pick an instrument for orchestra (our eldest plays the viola). The viola rarely gets cracked open at night, which we're OK with. Our eldest enjoys playing but isn't really into it, so we're not going to try and turn him into a wunderkind.

The cello is another matter. He's been into it since he got it and requested lessons from a musician at our church. She also teaches music class to our youngest at the church. I had the opportunity to take him once when my wife was out of town. It was me and eight stay-at-home mom's with their two and three year-olds lounging on the floor, clapping and dancing around. Maybe in some cities, it's called Group Therapy.

Anyways, he's working on a solo for the recital coming in the spring sometime, and he's doing just great. He wants to take his cello to the mountains this weekend for some reason, so I'm sure we'll dutifully stuff it into the minivan.

My favorite cello music has to be Bach's Cello Suite, which may be familiar to you from Yo-Yo Ma's performance in "Master and Commander," the Russell Crowe movie.

He puts so much into his music. I listen to this on iTunes all the time.

Mstislav Rostropovich, a Russian cellist, plays the same piece in 1991.

As I wandered on YouTube, I discovered an incredible gem. Again, hopefully old news to some of you, but I found an arrangement from the late Michael Hedges at the end of a concert he did in the summer of 1987.

He was a revolutionary acoustic guitarist, laying the groundwork for the likes of today's Kaki King among others. (btw, Kaki will be playing at The Tractor Tavern tonight at 9:00PM in Seattle, just in case anyone can get the nanny to watch the kids tonight...) On a side note, I found out The Wife is eligible for quadruple reward points from DSW Shoes as their only customer to buy 100 pairs of shoes in 2007.

I'm planning to download some of his music later today. The instrument he's playing is referred to as the harp guitar in the YouTube, which I've never heard of but was pretty neat. This was at the end of a concert in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It will blow you away...

20 March 2008

Mariah, You on Fire!

Janet Jackson pulled out of last week's SNL, so Mariah Carey stepped in with a new song. It has Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock as a Geek Squad-type guy making a house call. The song is titled, "Touch My Body," and I'm not exactly sure what some of the lyrics mean:

"Touch my body
Put me on the floor
Wrestle me around
Play wit me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed
I just wanna make you feel like you never did
Touch my body
Let me wrap my thighs
All around your waist
Just a little taste
Touch my body
Know you like my curves
C'mon and give me what I deserve
And touch my body"

OK, more Mariah

"We Belong Together" (live)

"I Still Believe" and "Hero" in Korea, I think (1999, live). "How do you say hello in Korean?" An nyoung ha se yo, I believe Mariah!

Worst Interview Ever

Dreadful questions for Bill Murray during a round at St. Andrews (aired on CBS News with Katie Couric a year ago). How he didn't bash in the skull of this guy is beyond me...

Why Sports Illustrated Discontinued Its Swimsuit Edition

We were in church Sunday. During the sermon, the pastor referenced the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (I can't exactly remember the point of what he was saying actually). I subscribe to SI but don't read it too much anymore (should anyone subscribe to any magazine?). I had assumed that SI had discontinued their swimsuit edition after I hadn't received it the last two or three years.

Then I turned to my wife, who gave me the most evil, sheepish grin you could ever get from your wife. My SI edition, a rite of passage I'd hoped my boys would stumble upon laying around the house, had ended up in the recycle bin the last two years.

At least we have the internets...

Rapid Fire March Madness Picks

I was an early adopter when it came to March Madness, furiously scribbling the names of the teams on single pieces of paper (no brackets pre-printed back then). I loved it, loved college hoops, loved it. This was before they killed NCAA basketball by sending high school and freshman rooks into the NBA. Before, I could get behind some random team for several seasons (e.g., Georgetown). Now, I'd be hard pressed to give you the names a dozen players in this year's tourney.

So with that as a qualifier, here are my picks (Sweet Sixteen in bold to save on space...)

Round 1:

Notre Dame
St. Joseph's

Kansas St.

Mississippi State
Oral Roberts

Texas A&M
Western Kentucky
West Virginia

Sweet Sixteen winners
West Virginia

Final Four

National Title Game
Memphis over Vandy

The logic of this? Well, everyone has christened UCLA and North Carolina as some incredible teams, and I just think with so much parity that we won't see that. The SEC is way down this year, which means half the Final Four will be from the SEC. Three teams from the state of Tennessee, with UConn thrown in (I have no idea why).

Virtually no one is picking Memphis, with most pundits naming them as the first #1 seed to head out. SI had a great article on their offense a few weeks ago, adopted from a high school coach in California somewhere. Incredibly athletic and fearless, playing a free-flowing game that no one has been able to stop this season.

I've also gotten rid of some of the darling picks (Pitt, Davidson, Drake). I also like getting both Hansbrough brothers out in the 2nd round. The Hoosiers have come through alot this season, and UVa showed them that the Tar Heels are hardly immortals. I don't like Stanford winning two games, and there are definitely some stretches on my board (Indiana, Vandy, West Virginia). Whatever.

There you go. btw, I just bought ITT stock today, so you can take that to the bank as well!

Old Poker Blog I've Never Seen

When I look at the site statistics, I sometimes stumble upon some real gems. Ornate Push from TanOrpheus has a terrific post-mortem complete with hand videos from a $3 re-buy on Stars. Maybe everyone knows about this site or this person, but I think it is one of the best analysis of tourney play I've seen, especially the betting size discussion. You'll be glad you went there.

19 March 2008

Raindrops Falling

Raindrops on Step
Originally uploaded by csquard

I've had my space heater on all day drying my toes and Birks while my head has remained damp.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. President George W. Bush had this to say today: "Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me: Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision -- and this is a fight America can and must win."

I won't use this day to comment on our President, the decision to invade, and the aftermath. There have been too many men and women who have died or been physically and mentally harmed to use this as a time to get on a soapbox and answer President Bush's questions.

My summary: we won the war, we didn't understand that we'd invaded a sovereign nation, we've not won the occupation, and the next decade for Iraq, the Middle East, and the US won't be simple or straightforward for anyone involved. That starts with us.

I'd like to ask everyone to take a couple minutes this afternoon and evening just to think about those we know and the nameless, faceless kids from our high school and neighborhoods growing up who would now be in Iraq if this had happened in 1979-1984. Or 1988-1993. Or 1995-2000.

Shannon Elizabeth Spanks CC & Fuel

So Shannon Elizabeth is better looking than Fuel or me, she's got more cash than either of us (I hope), and she's arguably a better poker player than either of us:

Shannon Elizabeth: four WSOP cashes for $10k, $125k for 3rd place in NBC HU Championship
Fuel: zero WSOP cashes, some forgotten cash in kanuck dollars
CC: zero WSOP cashes, $400 or so once at Commerce

Now, it looks like she's a better dancer than either of us (although surely there is a video in the works to challenge her...)

(thanks to Wicked Chops for the heads-upa)

Some Kind of View

I pulled over last night on the way to a soccer game to grab this shot from the sky.

Wow, What a View...

18 March 2008

Apple's First Logo and Graphics

As I was working away on some things, I stumbled upon this recap of Apple's first graphics and logos. Thirty years is literally a lifetime ago for many...

Go Fug Yourself March Madness

In honor of the upcoming hoops tourney, the ladies at Go Fug Yourself have their own March Madness brackets out. It features four regionals (with top four seeds in parentheses)
  • Bjork (1-Mischa Barton, 2-Gwen Stefani, 3-Paris Hilton, 4-Nicole Kidman)
  • Charo (1-Chloe Sevigny, 2-Bai Ling, 3-Tara Reid, 4-Jessica Simpson)
  • Cher (1-Lindsay Lohan, 2-Sharon Stone, 3-Keira Knightley, 4-Rihanna)
  • Madonna (1-Victoria "Posh" Beckham, 2-Jennifer Lopez, 3-Helena Bonham Carter, 4-Kate Moss)
Tourney starts Thursday, and I'm not actually sure what you're supposed to vote for (maybe the person who is most ridiculous, but I'm not quite sure). I thought I could easily explain it, but I actually have no idea how you should vote nor why different people are seeded where they are. For example, Brad Pitt is a 12 seed up against Fergie (5) in the Cher regional. Now how Fergie could beat Brad Pitt in anything is beyond me, unless it's having Fugly style sense.

I'll let you be the judge, but should be pretty fun.

Should This Election Be About Race?

When I delve into political waters here, I know it makes some turn off while making others feel uncomfortable. For those, I apologize in advance.

Barack Obama made the news today as he addressed his controversial pastor and, more broadly, race. Obama has swept through the South by grabbing an extremely high percentage of African-Americans as well as younger voters. From his speech today:
“Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” he said. “It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.”
Unfortunately, I don't think any of the three candidates, their two political parties, or the African-American leadership are prepared to address the significant problems we have in the US, not with racism, but with the African-American demographic. Consider that over 10% of all African-American males in the 25-29 age group are currently incarcerated in prisons throughout the US. Over half a million African-American males are in prison, a staggering number to say the least.

You may have heard of the documentary, Two Million Minutes. The filmmakers examine a boy and girl in their last year of high school in the United States, India, and China. The question posed by the documentary: who is better preparing their children for the 21st Century; not only in the classroom, but more broadly with how the rest of their time is filled? The six profiled are typical bright, motivated students headed on to college. Now look at the sequel of Two Million Minutes, but this time looking at the lives of an African-American girl in a small town in Mississippi and a boy in East St. Louis.

As Asian and Indian communities thrive here in the US, is there any real way out for the African-American community? I think it has moved from a situation of racism and human rights to now one of global competitiveness and national security. As a nation, we simply cannot continue to obtain outcomes where a tenth of the young men of one group of Americans are destined to be incarcerated. This isn't about speeches and experience, for that you can be sure. The speeches haven't helped and the experience has been a failure. We need leadership who understand that this is indeed a burning platform for the long-term health of our nation.

17 March 2008

Eliot Spitzer and Poker: Any Connection?

As I ate lunch with my wife, my wife and I discussed tax rebates, finances, and our own tax preparations that she is spearheading. "I wish we were a bit less ethical or moral," I told her. "A good chunk of our income last year came from poker." And that brings us squarely back to the disgraced governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer.

If you recall, Spitzer wasn't brought down by a prostitute who gave up her clients or even a pimp who squealed. No, it was wire transfers that hit him hard. From a New York Times article written last week by Don van Natta and Jo Becker, they detail how the saga unfolded, starting with wires to two offshore shell companies.

"These officials said that banks are likely to more closely monitor the transactions of politicians like Mr. Spitzer than those of average customers. In part, that is because of legislation passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

As part of the “know your customer” requirements, banks must assess their clients’ financial patterns and set guidelines to ensure that an alarm is sounded if there are unusual transactions..."
What does that have to do with income taxes, blogs, and poker? I'll give you my own account. I made money last year writing articles for PokerWorks and PokerStars blog, as well as writing my blog on PokerWorks. I was paid via wires to our account, cash that theoretically could be invisible. Yet as we did in 2006 and 2005, we are dutifully recording this income and paying taxes on it. I am not recording my poker winnings as income (I'm still in that negative world where I've never actually won anything and can't claim the losses, a double-loser whammy in our little US taxation universe...).

Spitzer was sniffed out under the broad auspices of greater scrutiny on financial transactions to set off alarms which might lead the US Government to money laundering and/or financing of terrorists, whether they be domestic or international. I'll heed to the legal minds in our mix (Jordan et al) to provide any greater details into this, and I don't know if this type of examination is normal banking due diligence or new in the post-9/11 days. The authors of the NY Times article suggested the latter.

The 4th Amendment of the US Constitution: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I'm no Libertarian and confess that I have given minimal thought to the dynamics of these types of invasions of privacy under the broad blanket of preventing bad things from happening. The Spitzer result seems to be an example of sniffing around in a way theoretically/possibly/maybe initially protected by the Constitution, finding something bad, punishing someone who did something bad, then moving on.

Is any of this right, or am I missing something?

The relevance to us is that Big Brother is indeed watching, and the IRS will ultimately receive all the observations. Don't claim your income from international sources, wires, and other invisible methods at your own peril.

Should We Care?

Everyone's favorite blogger was in the news last week, and for all the seemingly wrong reasons. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and writer of one of the most widely read blog around, ousted Dallas Morning News reporter Tim MacMahon, denying access to the Mavs locker room. Observers have pointed to this post from MacMahon as the catalyst for the action, with Cuban weighing in on his blog with quite an interesting diatribe on major media and blogs. It does beg a few questions: What are blogs? What is the difference between the following types of content supplied by a traditional media organization: a printed article, a web article, a blog post? Are bloggers somehow protected from ethics and journalistic rigor?

CC on Sports

98/366 Taking Out the Trash
Originally uploaded by csquard

Hope everyone had a good weekend. Ours was a bit adventurous, with a tornado hitting downtown ATL Friday evening as well as another storm hitting around the city Saturday. Soccer rained out, and I had a make-up practice yesterday. No soccer this week (Easter shuts down the Methodist league), and we'll be sneaking up to the Cliffs north of G-Vegas for the weekend.

A recurring maybe edition this Monday for your scanning pleasure:

  • NCAA Tourney I agree with a few of the pundits that this is a year where no one can really be too upset about missing out on the event. Maybe Virginia Tech could argue their case, and they looked legit as they lost a squeeker to UNC. The rest of the bunch simply sucked for too long this season. I'll have my picks later, but my horse to win it all is the only team I've seen play in person this season: Memphis. They've gotten no respect all season and continue to do so, with few of the early prognosticators picking them to make it out of their regional. Calipari went way out on a limb by implementing an entirely new offensive philosophy, a free-form approach that puts more decision-making into the hands of his talented, athletic players and less in his play-calling. Their only real negative, which is a big one, is poor free-throw shooting. Look for them to overcome this.
  • Women's Hoops The women's version of March Madness will be finalized tonight, and they'll launch their tourney concurrently with the men's version. Moronic. How about start and end your season a month after the men's version? Fans would be hyped about hoops then get to roll right into conference tourneys and another NCAA tournament. Gamblers could chase their losses with a slew of new games. And the public could embrace personalities like Tennessee's Candace Parker vs UConn's (and Georgia's own) Maya Moore, the best freshman to hit the court in years.
  • NBA Seasons like these are why I hate American sports sometimes. In the Eastern Conference, the Nets and our own Hawks are battling for the final playoff berth, ten games under .500. The Western conference team currently in 9th? The Denver Nuggets, fourteen games over .500. If they were in the Eastern Conference, they would be solidly in 4th place. I still never understand why our sports leagues must have divisions in their conferences. The marketing reason is to provide more interest for more teams late in the season. Ridiculous. On another side note, why is the regular season best record in every American sport irrelevant, while in soccer around the world the regular season league winner is a Champion? To the best, journeyman Rafer Alston led the Rockets to their 22nd straight win by smashing the Lakers Sunday. Enough said (especially because I have nothing to say...).
  • Relegation Speaking of soccer, this is my time to have my semi-annual rant about another flaw in American sports, the lack of relegation of horrible teams from their respective leagues. In the English Premiership as an example, 19th place Fulham picked up three vital points off the head of American Brian McBride, their first win in over a month. 18th-20th place in the twenty-team league drop down to the Triple-A of English soccer, replace by three teams from that league. You can bet Fulham's contingent of Americans McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Kasey Keller aren't desperately fighting for survival, along with their teammates. The NBA? Pat Riley is planning to abandon his Heat to scout college players as the worst team in the league, rivaled only by the Grizzlies inept ownership mess and the T-Wolves. And the Knicks? They would have been so long gone from the league, Isiah Thomas may have led them into the Streetball League by now.
  • PGA Watching Bart Bryant shake his head after Tiger buried his birdie putt on the 18th to win a fifth straight tournament said it all. We all want a beautiful Mickelson or Garcia or Els to stand up to Woods, but it seems like the Bob May's or Bryant's of the Tour are the one's who have the gumption to battle him toe-to-toe when they happen to catch lightning in a bottle. Maybe that's what it takes to stare him down, a resolve hardened by the Mini-tours and life failures. Ironically, the Golf Channel was showing a made-for-TV event last night, a 1997 skins game in Latrobe that paired a 21-year old Tiger with Arnold Palmer against Davis Love, III and Tom Lehman. It was strange to see a giddy Tiger just emerging, yet to be polished and still with his greatness only really in the eyes of his father and probably himself. Over/under on PGA Tour victories for Tiger in his career: 120?
  • Poker Much like open-wheel racing in the US, professional poker is a fractured mess with three major tournaments going on concurrently in the US and Europe. The WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star ended over the weekend with another top Final Table. Jennifer Harman had her best showing in forever with a 3rd place, beaten out by Steve Sung (2nd) and Brandon Cantu. Add John Phan's 6th place finish and the TV bubble boys (JC Tran-7th, David Tran-8th, Lee Watkinson-9th), and it was a showcase event for the WPT. Only 376 players made it to the event, and they made the $1mil first place prize at the expense of those who just cashed (Isabelle Mercier, Erick Lindgren, Michael Binger, and Tuan Le were among those finishing 37th-45th--they received their buy-in back). On the other side of the continent, the WSOP Circuit series made its way to Atlantic City for what was its largest field at 277 entries ($4,900 buy-in). Eric Haber took the title for $431,136, his best previous cash being for $89k at the 2005 WPT Foxwoods. Runner-up Dan Hicks took home $237,124, adding this to the $107k he made by making a Final Table at last year's WSOP. The top big field went to the European Poker Tour with their Warsaw event. 359 players ponied up 29,000 zlotychs (which may sound funny, except that it was $12,876.72). It was the first cash for the top four finishers, with Germany's Michael Schultze taking home the top prize of $926,220. Norwegian Trond Eidsvig was trying to make his fourth six-figure payday in the last seven months (led by $896k at the '07 Amsterdam Master Classics of Poker), but he'll have to settle for $86,448 for his 8th place finish.
  • NASCAR Jeff Burton won Bristol, cars banged into each other (including Tony Stewart late), and it's still a wide-open season so far.
Off to work, but thanks for stopping by this morning.

13 March 2008

The Emperors Club: Lessons in Marketing

By now, everyone has heard of terms like Kristen, Ashley Alexandra Dupré, and the Emperors Club; all in connection with the fall of New York's governor. I won't write today about moral failings, the mentality of power, the impact of seemingly small decisions, addictions. Man is fallible, and the public (or at least America) loves to watch when man falls. No, I'd like to chat just a bit about the lessons we can learn about marketing.

Let's look at this story not from the point of view of Spitzer or even Alexandra Dupr
é; no, let's look at the escort service, the Emperors Club. Prostitution is the oldest profession for several reasons: high customer demand, very low barriers to entry to start a business, low SG&A costs (particularly marketing). With the advent of internet, reaching new customers has become easier and easier.

The most poignant lesson of the Emperors Club is in customer segmentation.
Different customers buy these services based on different needs important to them. Pricing for prostitution and escort services in the United States varies widely, from a host of services under $100 to the +$10,000 providers. There is a large customer group who buy these services on price. Others buy on availability and convenience. Attractiveness of the service provider clearly impacts price. At the highest price levels, attractiveness seems not to be the primary driver of price.

The services of individuals and companies providing escort and high-end courtesan services are selling to a group of customers who really are buying on a different set of priorities:
  • Paying more is better There may not be anything as American as this, the simple fact that a niche group of customers view how much they pay as directly related to the quality of the product or service they purchase. Why does Lasik surgery vary so much in price? Why are there more service providers who charge >$3,500/eye (4.6%) than those charging <$1,000 (1.9%)? Because a significant group of customers in the US want to spare no expense when it comes to their eyes. Walk into a high-end Lasik Surgery operation, and you'll find it to look more like a spa than a medical facility. Patients are moved from room to room, to further enhance the experience. The Emperors Club targeted these customers, those who can and would spend more on escort services.
  • Customers want more than the product In a fascinating article for London's Daily Mail, Vanity Fair's Vicky Ward provides a glimpse into what these customers want.

    Other users of agencies are said to include major CEOs, Arab princes, scientists, even the terminally ill. One prostitute, a stunning blonde who worked as "Gloria" - none gave her real name - a legal secretary by day but an "escort" by night, told me that often she got treated far better by the men on her nightly excursions than the misogynists at her prestigious law firm, who thought nothing of patting her behind and asking if she wanted to accompany them on dirty weekends when their wives were out of town.

    By contrast her "clients" were gentlemen. "Often these were just lonely men who wanted to discuss TV programmes, or have a friendly face to talk to. Some did not even want sex," she says.

    These customers wanted more than sex, a list of needs including counseling, discretion, emotional connection, escape from loneliness, sexual exploration, peace of mind, quiet, stress release, and joy among many others you could name.
  • Customer retention is the key to profit growth The press reports imply that other escorts had experienced a less than pleasant interaction with Spitzer than Alexandra Dupré did, yet he kept returning and the Emperors Club kept listening and providing different options. Finding a new customer is much more expensive than keeping one, and the Emperors Club understood this very well.
  • Customer perception is often much more important than product reality It seems that the services of the Emperors Club weren't dramatically better than other service providers seem to be. Alexandra Dupré seems to be a lovely lady, but there are many more who are more attractive, more erotic, more enticing. These non-product features of what they marketed and provided got them both a premium price and a clientèle willing to return again and again.
I worked hard a couple years ago trying to make an interview happen with an interesting person who I'd stumbled upon when analyzing my site statistics. Her name was Elle Butterfield, and she gave me a glimpse into this world. She was an avid poker player who occasionally played East Coast tourneys, but her profession was that of the high-end escort. She charged $5k an hour up to $75k for a weekend away. Julia Roberts told us in "Pretty Woman" that prostitutes don't kiss their john on the lips, yet Elle guaranteed emotional intimacy and connection for her small list of clients. She eventually closed up shop before my interview was completed, possibly sticking with one of her customers who she'd fully connected with.

94/366 A Quickie

Hope everyone is doing well out there. I've been very, very busy and have neglected posting here. I have to confess I haven't minded an unannounced break. Busy is good, I keep telling myself that. Drop me a line when you can, either through comments or csquard@gmail.com.

10 March 2008

From the Clouds

8Mar 006
Originally uploaded by csquard

I had a very busy week, the end of six very busy weeks. It was a tough, good time for me. After a nice weekend, I'll be back in Pennsylvania for a couple days this week and here for the rest, probably here at home for awhile.

A couple of albums I downloaded this morning from iTunes that you might be interested in:

Kaki King has a new album released today, "Dreaming of Revenge." This amazing guitarist from the ATL adds more vocals on this release, and I think you'll find her to be a nice addition to your collection of music to work, chill, or play by.

Carmen Consoli is an Italian rocker who has brought her music back a bit, more toward the acoustical side. You can read about her in this NY Times concert review from Saturday.

We started soccer practice this week, and the 4th Grade Boys team ended up practicing Sunday due to weather here on Friday and Saturday. Our middle son has Sever's Disease, which I had as well at his age. It is a problem with the heel bone/calcaneus, similar to heel spurs. It is some kind of painful, and it used to be dreadful for me playing tennis when I was eleven or twelve. I could normally push through it, but when I stopped I could barely walk. No treatment except stretching or abandoning whatever physical activity causes the pain.

Here's to a great start to the week. I'm home, so I'll try to pop more into this as the day goes by.

05 March 2008

Emerging from the Darkness

87/366 Emerging from the Darkness
Originally uploaded by csquard

I've been working just feverishly since I got home Friday, compressing two weeks of analysis into four days. I'm headed to Pennsylvania for the client presentation (should land around 2:00AM). I played a little poker to take breaks (ten minutes or so of Stud ever couple hours). I may have a new boyfriend from Boston as the guy chatted me up something fierce (I did let slip that I was 19, though). Not sure if it was wise giving him my address, though.

I also played a little $0.50/1 NLHE 6-max last night, seventy hands or so, after I was finished working (around 2:00 this morning or so). Welcome to the table, sir...

POKERSTARS GAME #15751960568: HOLD'EM NO LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00) - 2008/03/05 - 02:18:19 (ET)
Table 'Geramtina' 6-max Seat #2 is the button
Seat 1: Trifle T ($136 in chips)
Seat 2: shampstyle ($97.50 in chips)
Seat 3: spectrefax ($130.85 in chips)
Seat 4: Buddelflink ($100 in chips)
Seat 6: csquard ($100.40 in chips)
spectrefax: posts small blind $0.50
Buddelflink: posts big blind $1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to csquard [7s 7h]
csquard: raises $2.50 to $3.50
Trifle T: folds
shampstyle: calls $3.50
spectrefax: folds
Buddelflink: calls $2.50
*** FLOP *** [Qd 2c 7d]
Buddelflink: checks
csquard: bets $6.25
shampstyle: calls $6.25
Buddelflink: raises $19.75 to $26
csquard: raises $70.90 to $96.90 and is all-in
shampstyle: folds
Buddelflink: calls $70.50 and is all-in
*** TURN *** [Qd 2c 7d] [Ks]
*** RIVER *** [Qd 2c 7d Ks] [9c]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Buddelflink: shows [2s 2d] (three of a kind, Deuces)
csquard: shows [7s 7h] (three of a kind, Sevens)
csquard collected $208.25 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $210.25 | Rake $2
Board [Qd 2c 7d Ks 9c]
Seat 1: Trifle T folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: shampstyle (button) folded on the Flop
Seat 3: spectrefax (small blind) folded before Flop
Seat 4: Buddelflink (big blind) showed [2s 2d] and lost with three of a kind, Deuces
Seat 6: csquard showed [7s 7h] and won ($208.25) with three of a kind, Sevens

POKERSTARS GAME #15751974578: HOLD'EM NO LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00) - 2008/03/05 - 02:19:44 (ET)
Table 'Geramtina' 6-max Seat #3 is the button
Seat 1: Trifle T ($136 in chips)
Seat 2: shampstyle ($87.75 in chips)
Seat 3: spectrefax ($130.35 in chips)
Seat 6: csquard ($208.65 in chips)
csquard: posts small blind $0.50
Trifle T: posts big blind $1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to csquard [Kd Kc]
shampstyle: folds
spectrefax: raises $3 to $4
Buddelflink has returned
csquard: calls $3.50
Trifle T: folds
*** FLOP *** [4s 7d 9s]
csquard: checks
spectrefax: bets $6
csquard: raises $10 to $16
rulazaskepas joins the table at seat #5
spectrefax: raises $24 to $40
csquard: raises $164.65 to $204.65 and is all-in
spectrefax: folds
csquard collected $87 from pot
csquard: doesn't show hand
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $89 | Rake $2
Board [4s 7d 9s]
Seat 1: Trifle T (big blind) folded before Flop
Seat 2: shampstyle folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 3: spectrefax (button) folded on the Flop
Seat 6: csquard (small blind) collected ($87)

POKERSTARS GAME #15752101448: HOLD'EM NO LIMIT ($0.50/$1.00) - 2008/03/05 - 02:32:27 (ET)
Table 'Geramtina' 6-max Seat #1 is the button
Seat 1: Trifle T ($50.90 in chips)
Seat 2: shampstyle ($97 in chips)
Seat 3: spectrefax ($185.90 in chips)
Seat 4: Buddelflink ($98.50 in chips)
Seat 5: rulazaskepas ($33.30 in chips)
Seat 6: csquard ($251.35 in chips)
shampstyle: posts small blind $0.50
spectrefax: posts big blind $1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to csquard [Qs Qc]
Buddelflink: folds
rulazaskepas: folds
csquard: raises $2 to $3
Trifle T: folds
shampstyle: folds
spectrefax: raises $6 to $9
csquard: calls $6
*** FLOP *** [7s Js 6h]
spectrefax: bets $10
csquard: calls $10
*** TURN *** [7s Js 6h] [Qh]
spectrefax: bets $25
csquard: raises $207.35 to $232.35 and is all-in
spectrefax: calls $141.90 and is all-in
*** RIVER *** [7s Js 6h Qh] [9h]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
spectrefax: shows [Jd 7d] (two pair, Jacks and Sevens)
csquard: shows [Qs Qc] (three of a kind, Queens)
csquard collected $369.30 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot $372.30 | Rake $3
Board [7s Js 6h Qh 9h]
Seat 1: Trifle T (button) folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 2: shampstyle (small blind) folded before Flop
Seat 3: spectrefax (big blind) showed [Jd 7d] and lost with two pair, Jacks and Sevens
Seat 4: Buddelflink folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 5: rulazaskepas folded before Flop (didn't bet)
Seat 6: csquard showed [Qs Qc] and won ($369.30) with three of a kind, Queens

70 hands, VP$IP of 17.14 at 6-max, +$358 when I clocked out. I've become a very casual poker player during these last weeks, rarely playing for any real stakes and not clocking many hands. I think it's OK. I do miss the blogger tourneys, and maybe I can drop into one sometime in the coming weeks.

Off to the airport now. Wish me luck!

03 March 2008

What a Great Day!

85/366 What a Great Day!
Originally uploaded by csquard

I needed a day like this. Extremely productive and efficient with my time, like I haven't been in probably a couple years. Lunch with my wife, unrushed. Soccer started today with our 6th grade boys team practice, and practice was just terrific. A nice dinner, more work tonight, then I knocked off at 10:00 to wake my wife and watch Lost and Iron Chef America. Now a very quick post followed by a tender midnight with my wife. I cannot wait for the sun to rise tomorrow...

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