Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Thursday, August 31, 2021

shout it out
You couldn’t have scripted it better. Only a couple of days after a two-million M&Ms dark chocolate reward was offered for the recovery of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, Norwegian police find the stolen painting (along with the other missing Munch, “Madonna”).

No word on if the candy award is going to be claimed by the Norway cops. If they’re like the cops Stateside, I’d imagine they’d prefer donuts, the more traditional law-enforcement nosh.

My cynicism compels me to suggest that M&Ms conspired to set up this whole thing. I point to my previous speculation on the death of Ken Lay as proof of my paranoia pedigree.

But hey, even I’m not that jaded. Looks like Mars came out with their PR salvo just in the nick of time.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/31/2006 11:57pm
Category: Food, Pop Culture, True Crime
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Looks like someone slipped extra-strength curry into some pressroom hummus. The growing economic clout of India is touted today in both Fortune Magazine (vis a vis how its democratic tradition will overtake current Asian tiger China within a generation) and the New York Times (which touts India heavy industry as the engine that will boost the country’s future).

Particularly excellent analysis by Fortune’s Cait Murphy:

China’s hardware - in the form of bridges, roads, ports and the like - is incomparably better than India’s. Anyone who has ever been to both Shanghai and Bombay, the countries’ respective commercial capitals, does not need any convincing that Shanghai is the more modern and efficient city.

But in important ways, India’s economic software is superior. India’s banks report about 10 percent non-performing loans; China admits to 20 percent and the true figure could be double that.

India’s capital markets work the way they should; China’s are a rigged casino. India has more engineers and scientists; its domestic entrepreneurs have made a bigger mark.

How much of this represents a wishful-thinking meme on this side of the globe? Of the two, India is more Western than China; presumably, a future Indian superpower would be friendlier to Europe and America than a competing power center in Beijing. Not that socio-political familiarity necessarily breeds friendship…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/31/2006 11:31pm
Category: Business, Political
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Today I overheard some business jargon that tickled my business-news fancy: Shadow revenue.

What is it? Good question. Contrary to my initial belief, it does not refer to album sales for DJ Shadow

Web references to the phrase are thin. Even Economist.com falls short, offering only a tidbit on “shadow price”, which turns out to be merely a synonym for the already-reviewed “opportunity cost”.

But as it was explained to me, “shadow revenue” refers to the net proceeds from a transaction, that turns out to yield a percentage of a percentage of a percentage. In other words, an amount so miniscule and hard to calculate that, while it goes down in the books as sales activity, it’s hardly enough to make a dent.

Good enough for me. Anyone else want to take a stab?

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/31/2006 10:44pm
Category: Business, Pop Culture, Wordsmithing
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Wednesday, August 30, 2021

Dude. Forest Whitaker is playing Ugandan dictator/cannibal Idi Amin in upcoming flick The Last King of Scotland?

I can’t think of a more inspired, dead-on casting choice. Brilliant.

And what’s with that title, considering it’s about an African despot? According to Amin’s 2003 obituary:

He praised Hitler and said the German dictator “was right to burn six million Jews.” He bizarrely offered to be king of Scotland if asked.

Good thing no one asked.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/30/2006 11:36pm
Category: History, Movies
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Still afraid to go near the computer after finding out that search engine logs can more or less ID you directly?

Then fire up Firefox and install the TrackMeNot extension. It’s a browser companion that periodically pings Google, Yahoo! and the like with dummy search queries to throw them off your trail. Since it’s coming from your Internet connection, those pings automatically carry your IP address, so it mimics actual search requests.

It’s not foolproof. Even though the fake search terms are random, it’s possible to identify them and then filter them out. But it’s something.

I can’t imagine the search sites would be happy about this; it’s essentially junk (almost spam-like) clogging their bandwith. Since it’s a Firefox app, it’s never going to be widespread, but still.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/30/2006 11:22pm
Category: Internet
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check it out
I’ve been known to dump on Google’s various business ventures. For instance, I took some delight in a long-ago dissecting analysis of Froogle’s shortcomings.

The sell-jobs haven’t gotten much more compelling since, as “Googling” doesn’t transfer well to non-search functions. Now, it looks like Mountain View’s latest revenue-generating gamble, Google Checkout, is foundering early, causing perhaps irreversible damage in the eyes of users:

While all new Internet services have technology kinks that need to be worked out, the Piper Jaffray survey results suggests the challenges facing Checkout go deeper than that.

Some retailers told Jaffray analysts they were afraid of ceding control they usually have over their online customers to Google.

Part of that stems from Google’s requirement that if a checkout user wants to change an order, they have to go through Google Checkout, not the retailer’s own site.

About 10% of those surveyed by Piper Jaffray also expressed fear about the insight Google might get into their own customers or business operations. That’s because Checkout is a repository for the same type of customer information — such as their email addresses or shopping preferences — that retailers usually have at their fingertips…

Now a harried Google is trying to make amends for fumbled orders by sending out free T-shirts, mouse pads, memory sticks and in one instance a wireless mouse to befuddled customers.

But with Checkout, Google’s learning a hard lesson: When it comes to handling other people’s money, consumers forget about learning curves.

Looks like Google is taking full advantage of the beta status of Checkout — i.e., make all the screwups now. Assuming the product can survive the collateral damage long-term — an iffy proposition.

Would it be the worst thing in the world for Google to flame out in the non-search offerings? If users aren’t biting on the concept of Google as a one-stop Internet shop, maybe it should just give up and redouble efforts on the search/content fronts.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/30/2006 11:02pm
Category: Business, Internet
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Tuesday, August 29, 2021

At first glance, this “Hell of Sand” widget game seemed addictive, but only fleetingly so.

Ninety minutes later, with my eyes slightly cross-eyed from manipulating pixel streams representing water, oil, salt and (of course) sand onto zombies and weird-acting pinwheel, I’d have to say it’s not fleet enough. Lucky I didn’t end up hypnotized.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/29/2006 11:44pm
Category: Creative, Internet
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i'm back, baby!
Let’s see if I can connect all the dots here:

Mark Wahlberg — all five-foot-eight-and-a-half of him — plays former Philadelphia Eagle Vince Papale, the NFL’s answer to Rudy, in Invincible. The payoff: The movie debuts at No. 1 in this past weekend’s box office (albiet a weak one, at $17 million).

Then, on Monday, Tom Cruise — all five-foot-seven of himlands a two-year development deal that will provide money for his production company, only days after he was ignominiously dumped by Paramount.

Cruise’s new financial backer? First and Goal, an investment consortium headed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

What makes me think that we can expect to see a crowd-inspiring football flick starring Cruise in the near future? The formula is clear, at least to Snyder: Short guy + football = moneymoneymoney! Surely, The Doug Flutie Story beckons…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/29/2006 08:35am
Category: Business, Celebrity, Movies
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Monday, August 28, 2021

not in your hands
At last check, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was still missing, after being stolen in a daring daytime theft.

If international police sleuthing can’t track down the iconic artwork, maybe candy will. Masterfoods USA/Mars is offering 2 million dark chocolate M&M’s for the return of Munch’s opus.

If the dark stuff doesn’t get results, they should try the crispy version. That’s my favorite.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/28/2006 11:54pm
Category: Food, Pop Culture
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The New York Times pokes a stick at the corpse of Knight Ridder, wondering what went wrong.

The blame is nominally laid at the feet of former KR chief P. Anthony Ridder, for not putting up more of a fight against the Bruce Sherman-led financial barbarians at the gate. It’s even suggested that the post-McClatchy sell-off of individual newspapers should have offered a blueprint to Ridder for avoiding the sale of his namesake:

Some thought that Mr. Ridder could have sold off pieces of the company in order to keep it afloat. William Dean Singleton, the chief executive of the MediaNews Group, which eventually bought four of the Knight Ridder papers from McClatchy, was one.

“In retrospect, if Tony had it in him to sell Philadelphia and Akron, as Gary has done, the company he had left would have looked good,” he said, referring to Mr. Pruitt’s sale of the Knight Ridder papers in those markets. Without those papers, Mr. Singleton said, “his financial performance would have been among the best in the industry.”

More broadly, the short-term performance prerogatives that come with being a publicly-held company are blamed for doing in KR and applying constant pressure on other newspaper conglomerates to cut operating costs. That’s nothing new — the evil spectre of the bleating shareholder has been the newspaper industry’s bogeyman even before the Web showed up as an undercutting competitor. And particularly lately, lots of public companies and analysts have been dreaming of going private, thus ditching those pesky quarterly reports.

I’m thinking we’re overdue for a historical analysis on how the last “dinosaur” media sector fared when faced with extinction: Radio. Television was supposed to kill off the AM/FM dial back in the ’60s and ’70s; I’d imagine the stock market back then reacted in a downcast manner similar to the current attitude for newspapers. Of course, radio reoriented itself and became a hugely profitable business, regaining the full confidence of Wall Street; no reason why newspapers shouldn’t be expected to turn a similar trick.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/28/2006 11:39pm
Category: Business, Publishing, Radio
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The cat’s out of the bag, courtesy Business 2.0: You can quit your day job and blog full-time for a living!

Uh, well… Maybe if your blog is called TechCrunch. For the rest of us, the AdSense piggybank doesn’t fill up quite that much on a regular basis.

But then, who says you have to rely just on Google’s ad syndicate?

John Battelle… was working on a book about Google when he had an epiphany: Bloggers were building huge audiences for free. Yet even popular bloggers couldn’t make a living full-time; existing networks like Google and BlogAds weren’t paying enough.

Incidentally, those huge audiences apply not only to the most popular/well-known blogs, but also to the aggregate result of several thousand blogs being launched every day. That’s why Google bought Blogger/BlogSpot three years ago: To secure a source of ever-expanding online acreage on which to display all those AdSense ad units.

Battelle figured he could find out which bloggers were already generating heavy traffic, and then serve as a middleman between them and advertisers. He launched his startup, called Federated Media Publishing, last fall with seed money from the New York Times Co. and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Battelle compares FM’s model to a record company. He and his team are the band managers; the bloggers are the bands. The key difference is that bloggers own their content, earning 60 cents of every ad dollar.

He has signed about 75 of the most popular bloggers of various stripes, and hopes to land a few hundred in all. FM’s eight-person sales force has been aggressively approaching big marketers, armed with detailed and persuasive demographics.

The usual tenets apply for striking it rich with a blog: Plenty of regularly-updated and relevant content, fairly tight focus on topic area, and ability to build up lotsa traffic/community. I’ve got about one-and-a-half of those bases covered — the content and traffic parts. Not so much on community, and a laughable lack of focus. So I guess I shouldn’t be expecting a call or email from Federated Media anytime soon…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/28/2006 08:06am
Category: Bloggin', Business
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Sunday, August 27, 2021

Allegedly, the Washington Post and Mensa recently released results to the Washington Post Mensa Invitational. The Invitational is a public solicitation to take a word from the dictionary, add/subtract/alter one letter in it, and then supply a new definition to the ersatz word.

I say “allegedly” because I can’t find a trace of this contest, on either organization’s site or in a general Web search (aside from other blog references to previous years’ editions). It seems to me that if this Invitational were real, it would be prominently referenced.

Regardless, someone’s somehow found a list of the results. Wherever these came from, they’re pretty good (although I think the list runs out of gas after No. 11):

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

5. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate’s disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug: Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

18. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/27/2006 09:45pm
Category: Creative, Wordsmithing
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Behold today’s wired/mobile generation. Not only do we take our notebook computers and other gadgets to bed with us:

Dr. Enoch Choi, 36, and his wife, Tania, 33, who have been married 10 years, both take laptops to bed to write their blogs. “I suppose I started the trend,” said Dr. Choi, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif. “But now my wife is just as much the nighty-night PowerBook key-banger, blogging away for her friends.”

Ms. Choi, a computer interface designer, said she used to be offended by gadgets in the bedroom. “I don’t even have a TV in the room,” she said. But now, “it’s one of those weird modalities of intimacy I’m just going to have to reconcile myself to.”

But we also pay more attention to them than to our bedmates:

People are becoming increasingly dependent on their cellphones. According to Dan Schulman, CEO of cell operator Virgin Mobile, one in five will interrupt sex to answer their phone.

Talk about “weird modalities of intimacy”…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/27/2006 06:19pm
Category: Society, Tech
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(with apologies to Miles Davis)

Just as “wiccan” is modern parlance for witches and witchcraft, “biccan” is the new black for all things pertaining to bitches and, uh, bitchcraft.

Bicca is an universe-based religion, in which the entire universe orbits around the Biccan. Biccans know and honor a female god, known to them as “myself.” Biccans believe in a creed that states, “Do everything you want as long as it helps yourself.”

Biccans do not believe that Bicca is the only valid belief system. It is just the only one they care about. Since Bicca is a universe-based religion, the need for perfect imbalance must be pointed out. Any Biccan who does anything to help another person, even another Biccan, must be ridiculed by small groups of gathering Biccans, known as “those Biccans sitting over there.”

Finally, a religion I can get with. Too bad my genitalia doesn’t match up.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/27/2006 05:03pm
Category: Comedy, Society
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Saturday, August 26, 2021

It figures: I’d just noticed how I’d gone weeks more or less free from the usual nagging lower-back pain I’ve becomed accustomed to having, when said ailment flared up again big-time today. (I don’t discount the possibility that it’s at least partly psychosomatic, given the circumstances; but regardless, it hurts.)

I’ve spent all day stooping slightly, like a frail little old man, as I’ve darted from one sit-down location to the next. I’ve tried all the stretching exercises and remedies I know; no dice. Fact is, just sitting here and tapping away at the keyboard is bringing a noticable amount of discomfort my way. The three posts I managed to squeeze off today actually required a good bit of physical effort. I’m crossing my fingers that this is the worst of it, and it’ll start to subside tomorrow. Obviously, this shoots my weekend all to hell; at least there’s an NFL preseason game on tonight…

And now, I’m going to have to stop for the day. Which sucks, because this has been quite an eventful week for me:

- I went on a scavenger hunt through midtown Manhattan, that included trips through Central Park (including the children’s zoo, natch) and Rockefeller Center’s “Top of the Rock” observation deck;

- A Broadway show starring Martin Short;

- A cruise through Chinatown for dinner and authentic Chinese ice cream;

- Wanderings through the club landscape in Chelsea and the meatpacking district;

And various other bits of activity.

In lieu of putting all these items in some procrastination blogging queue, I’m just going to leave them as they are, above. Any questions for details can be directed toward the Feedback form below.

Now, excuse me while I kill myself by picking up some dry cleaning…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/26/2006 04:17pm
Category: Bloggin', New Yorkin'
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Someone at the New York Times is really pushing pool as the next hip pasttime for the urban sophisticato.

Last week, there was a feature on the no-pockets three-cushion variant of the game. And now, bottle pool, with its elaborate scoring system, is presented as an upscale niche pursuit.

In the first leg, you can score three ways: by sinking object balls pool-style, earning 1 point for yellow and 2 points for red; by caroming the cue ball off both object balls billiards-style for 1 point; or by caroming the cue ball off an object ball and knocking over the bottle for 5 points. The trick is to score 25 points and only 25 points. If you “go over” (say, by knocking over the bottle after already amassing 21 points), you have to restart the first leg and work your way back up to 25.

The goal in the second leg is to score two billiards points. But if you unintentionally sink an object ball without making a billiard on the shot, you lose your turn. In the final leg, you have to make an intentional “scratch” in which the cue ball caroms off the yellow object ball and disappears into a called pocket.

For someone who never advanced beyond cutthroat and 9-ball — despite at one point having a roommate who was a veritable pool shark — this is all way beyong my tolerance for stick-and-cue entertainment. Beside, the cardinal rule I learned about drink containers during a pool game: Keep those beer bottles off the table!

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/26/2006 04:04pm
Category: New Yorkin', Other Sports, Publishing
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Ken Grandlund of the blog Common Sense was running for Congress, in some House district in California.

Now, he’s not. Although to hear him tell it, you wonder if he ever really was:

Despite a fair amount of visibility on the political internet blog circuit, most of my attempts to gain attention from the traditional media in this district went unnoticed, a failure that literally doomed my prospects from the beginning. Without an outlet to let people know about my campaign, I had only a few part time volunteers, each of us working full time jobs in the process. It was not possible for so few to collect so many signatures in so short a time…

The final straw on the proverbial camel’s back can be attributed to the overall lack of funding, which I also knew would be a large barrier. And despite the contributions some supporters generously provided, my campaign contributions never broke $1000.

A small handful of part-timers to convince voters to endorse somebody they’ve never heard of, and a few hundred dollars to run the whole show. Hello? With those kinds of resources, you couldn’t get elected prom queen.

The knee-jerk characterization of a grassroots failure like this is to blame the system, with its emphasis on slick marketing, party machinery and campaign coffers in the thousands (even millions) of dollars. The truth is much more fundamental: You can’t mount a half-assed effort (and based on Grandlund’s description, I’m being very generous about that “half” part) and expect to win support. Why should newspapers and television news devote coverage to someone who’s campaigning part-time? Why should registered voters help put a candidate on the ballot when he can’t convince anyone to invest money (which in politics represents more a currency of credibility and accountability than anything else) in him or his ideas? Being a Congressperson is all about collaborating with peers to effect action and change in the political process; if a candidate can’t demonstrate powers of persuasion during a campaign, it’s not likely they can swing it if they actually wind up holding office. Idealism is great; delivering on its promise is the rest of the equation.

Invoking some measure of success on the “political internet blog circuit” hints at this being another example of falling under the Web’s exaggerating spell. How many of Grandlund’s prospective constituents ever visited his blog or read any of his posts, there or elsewhere? Web traffic doesn’t mean much in a Congressional race. At best, it’s a required ancilliary component to a campaign, not the centerpiece. And no matter how many messages of support you get, it comes down to how you influence the local voters, period.

I don’t live anywhere near Grandlund’s area, and I don’t read his blog regularly (I come across it without fail during my infrequent Blog Explosion clickarounds). But I’d noticed his now-removed sticky post informing about his independent campaign, and over the past week, I plugged his name into Google News, just to see if he was generating any sort of media heat. Obviously, he wasn’t, and I wondered if the campaign existed anywhere but on the Web. I guess I know the answer to that now.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/26/2006 03:38pm
Category: Bloggin', Politics
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Recently, I switched to a new keychain. It’s one of these translucent little pigs/piggybanks, created by Poul Willumsen.

Big deal. Who cares about keychains? They’re something you don’t even buy — you just pick them up as freebies (which was the case with this little piggy).

Aside from being a cute little trinket, there is nothing special about it. But I’ve amused myself with what it’s replaced. My former keychain was a little metal placard that read:

Thomas French
1998 Pulitzer Prize
Feature Writing

(opposite side)

St. Petersburg Times
Times wins sixth Pulitzer

Yes, I was hanging onto a memento from Tom French’s Pulitzer Prize win for his 1998 series, Angels & Demons. The paper had a bunch of these keychains made, and put one into everyone’s office mailboxes. I took the liberty of using mine, even though I had nothing at all to do with French’s work (aside from, probably, holding the elevator for him once or twice during that timespan).

I could draw a comparison between a pig and French’s physical proportions, which are mighty hefty… But I’ll refrain. For all I know, French has gotten into shape since the last time I saw him, probably at least two years ago (and, curiously, I can’t tell if he’s actually with the Times anymore, at least on an active basis; the website doesn’t seem to contain any recent long-form opus from him, and after the Pulitzer win, he seemed to come into the office on extremely rare occasions).

I could also consider going from a Pulitzer placard to a plastic porker as a demotion of sorts for my pocket. It’s also a signifier of one further break from my past — from Florida and publishing to New York and marketing (for the time being). The symbolism is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let it lie.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/26/2006 02:45pm
Category: Comedy, Florida Livin', Publishing
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Friday, August 25, 2021

All this time, I thought that ending up with an empty fortune cookie was the most dreadful way to wind up a night of Chinese cuisine.

But I learned otherwise a couple of nights ago, after an otherwise splendid meal at Chinatown’s Peking Duck House. I cracked open my fortune cookie, and was served up with this message:

Oops… wrong cookie.

“Wrong cookie”??! The rest of my dining companions got the usual pearls of faux-Confucian wisdom from their little slips of paper. Me? I get a vaguely threatening smackdown. How could I be expected to walk away from something like that with a spring in my step?

I think I’m going to skip the fortune cookies from here on out.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/25/2006 08:29pm
Category: Food, New Yorkin'
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dropping hamiltons
The odds of a sequel to the “Saturday Night Live” viral sensation “Lazy Sunday/The Chronic(what?)les of Narnia” are now looking slimmer. Chris Parnell, half of the goof-rap duo, reportedly is one of the four SNL staff cuts expected to be handed down shortly.

Doesn’t bode well for the dinosaur skit show when it axes someone behind one of the few genuinely funny bits it served up this century.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/25/2006 08:18pm
Category: Comedy, TV
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Those bundles of telephone, Internet and (oh yeah) television services were only a prelude. After cutting their teeth on the residential market, cable companies are now peddling their telecommunications wares to business clients, where the real money is.

“All of the advantages that we have in the residential market are magnified,” Tom Rutledge, president and chief operating officer of Cablevision, told Reuters. “It’s because the business market place has historically been priced extremely high by incumbent phone companies.”

Telecommunications analysts said companies like Verizon and AT&T Inc. have become complacent in serving small and medium businesses because they have not faced the same competitive or regulatory pressures as in residential markets.

Rutledge said phone companies have been able to charge higher rates for businesses because it was more “politically palatable” for regulators, compared to raising voters’ bills.

“If I were a cable company I would be taking advantage of the window of opportunity because this particular part of the market place has been underserved for years and years,” said Forrester Research analyst Lisa Pierce.

I wonder where VoIP providers fit into this competitive mix. They’re already competing with traditional business phone providers, undercutting the price models to establish their bulkheads. Now the cable companies will throw this sector off even more.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/25/2006 07:37pm
Category: Business, Tech
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