20 July, 2011

Conspiracy Theory #131: MENSA Sarah P

Sarah Palin? Michele Bachmann?

Look at the things they've said... the views they espouse... the massive gaffes, and seemingly shameless manner in which they recover from them. The only possible explanation is that it's all an act. The American people, on average, are of below average intelligence. And people like people who are like them. So if you get up there and act like a world-class moron, people will like you. They feel comfortable. They can relate. And what's even better? When the "liberal elite" start pointing out all the ways in which these folks are wrong, it just makes them look stodgy, intolerant, and overly perfectionist. And that strengthens the bond with these caricatures even further.

So I say: Good job, Sarah. Good job, Michele. You've got everyone fooled.

19 July, 2011

Netflix, Conjoint Analysis, Market Simulation, Voila!

I just took a market research course last week learning about a method called Conjoint Analysis. Basically, it goes like this: Any product or service is comprised of a series of attributes ("features"). Each of these attributes could possess any number of levels ("options"). For example, if you're talking about cars, the attributes might be "brand", "price", "fuel efficiency", "number of doors", "sound system", "type of loan", etc. Each of those attributes has a variety of possibilities... Toyota, Honda, VW... 35mpg, 40mpg, 25mpg... 2 doors, 4 doors, hatchback... and so on. In conjoint analysis, you do a survey where users are presented a series of random combinations of different levels of each attribute, and people pick the best one of each series. If you analyze all the data from a bunch of survey respondents, you will end up having an estimate of the relative importance of all the attributes. For instance, you might find that price is the most important thing for people deciding about what car to buy, followed by brand, and that sound system doesn't really influence their choices much, in comparison.

After you've done a conjoint, you can then do a market simulation. In this process, you can identify a series of hypothetical (or real) products that combine these attributes in specific ways. And you can predict what market share each product would achieve (all other things being equal). For instance, I might determine that a new version of a Toyota Camry that gets 40mpg instead of 30mpg would gain 10% market share over competitors, all else being equal, even though it raises the price of the car by $500 to produce.

So where am I going with all this?

I thought about Netflix recent price hike. And then I thought about the competition. There's really no viable competitor to Netflix right now. A nice article in the Huffington Post summarizes the options. The conclusion is that nothing touches Netflix. And not only does nothing touch Netflix at $9.99/month, nothing touches them at $15.98/month (and probably not even at $19.99/month). If you were to do a conjoint analysis on movie service options, and then consider the market share (and resultant revenue) for a hypothetically more expensive Netflix offering, what you'd undoubtedly find is that a) for modest price increases, there will be no loss of market share, and b) for even sizable price increases, the loss of market share (either to competitors or drop-out) pales in comparison to the increased revenue that results from the elevated pricing.

Tranlation:  Even if Netflix lost a quarter of their customers due to these hikes (which is highly doubtful), they'll still probably increase their revenue by 10-20% (if not more).

If Netflix wants to buy back the karma, the slam dunk would be to increase the availability of titles for their streaming service (which is already pretty good, but could be better). Perhaps even offer specials, such as periodic offerings of newer films on the streaming service (perhaps during off-peak hours), or a pay-as-you-go streaming offer for newer movies (on top of the unlimited basic streaming plan).

Unfortunately, the more likely thing is that they're going to see how this increase flies, and if it does not have significant negative impact, and (big if) the competition doesn't step it up, then I wouldn't be surprised to see yet another rate hike in the 6-12 month time frame. And, in a capitalistic market, why shouldn't they?

Essentially what Netflix has done is to get us addicted to their product, and now start jacking up the cost. Pretty smart marketing for them. And possibly a good time to invest in Netflix, I would think.

03 July, 2011

Guitar Series: 2000 American Series Fender Telecaster

Shortly after I joined the band, it became evident that I was going to be playing almost exclusively Telecasters. That's the way they wanted it, and I was inclined to go along with that wish. The only Telecaster I owned, at that time, was my 1978 (which you can see in another post in this blog). I had some qualms about gigging with that guitar, and even more qualms about touring with it, because its value is substantial (last time I had it appraised, it was about $3500). So I needed a Telecaster that I didn't mind bringing with me everywhere.

During one of my routine "see if there's anything cool today" trips to Trading Musician, I saw this guitar, shown below. Immediately, I was in awe, because it was just about the coolest guitar I had ever seen.

The color was something I'd never seen before, and the finish had an amazing antique-like appearance to it. Immediately, I knew that I had to have this guitar. It would be "the guitar". I played it with the anxiety one plays an instrument when they're looking for validation of a choice, as opposed to objectivity. The guitar *needed* to sound good, because of how it looked. And if it didn't sound good, or play correctly, it would then be a question of how much work would be required to make it right.

Here's the kicker. The price was $350. And it's an American-made (Corona series, I later discovered) instrument. It could easily have gone for much more money, but the store considered it to be devalued because of the odd paint job.

And, as if the finish on the front were not weird enough, if you look at the back of the guitar, it's got strange "artwork" embedded into the finish. It appears that it was the work of a child, actually.

I was able to determine, through searching the web, and subsequent emails, that this guitar belonged to someone in a band named Branta. Hence the "Branta <3 Sea Horses". It was kind of cool to know where it originated.

As soon as the members of the band saw and heard this guitar, it became "The Gold Standard" for Telecasters, as far as they were concerned. In fact, I was pretty much forbidden, under penalty of extensive harassment, from using any other instrument. In fact, our lead guitarist gave this guitar a nickname, "Greengo", a play on the word "Gringo", which ended up sticking. If I ever played a different guitar, the guys would say "Where's Greengo? Why aren't you playing Greengo?!"

On numerous occasions, I was approached after shows, by people from other bands or audience members, who asked me to tell them the details about this guitar. Many inquired as to the vintage, expecting to hear that it was something really old, especially supported by the apparent aged look of the instrument. Of course, all were surprised to know that it is, technically speaking, "nothing special".

Why does it sound so good?

Well, something about the pickups seems to result in a bit more clarity of individual notes than you typically hear with Telecasters. I've played many, and own three now and, when you push the drive levels with pedals or gain, Telecasters tend to get a blending of the notes of a chord. This one does the same, but not nearly as quickly. You can get a pretty biting, hot tone, and still have the distinctiveness. I've played other Corona-made Telecasters from similar vintage, and they are quite similar. So it's something about the model. I contemplated trying to acquire an identical one as a backup, but never did. Lately, it makes less sense, since I'm not performing.

I've done a little bit of work on the guitar, but mostly in the form of advanced setup. I wanted to change the string gauge to 11-52, and in order to do that, I ended up needing to make multiple adjustments; not just the usual truss rod and string height, but also needed to get into neck angle, which was a whole new bag for me. Reading instructions on the internet, I was able to do it without getting into any trouble.

The custom strap shown in the first picture is from Levy's Leathers. They make the coolest straps of anyone, and they have a wide variety.

I've had a few lucky finds, and good purchases through the years. But this one stands out as the biggest bang for any buck I've ever spent on music gear.