Billy Joel on the front row

on 3 June 2017

Q: There’s a pretty chill vibe backstage at your show.

These guys are all road dogs, all veterans, they’ve been doing it for years and years, they’ve worked for everybody. There’ a good spirit on this tour, and good morale is really important. We never sell front rows, we hold those tickets at just about every concert. For years, the scalpers got the tickets and would scalp the front row for ridiculous amounts of money. Our tickets are cheap, under $100, some in the $80s, the highest is about $150. I’d look down and see rich people sitting there, I call ‘em “gold chainers.” Sitting there puffing on a cigar, “entertain me, piano man.” They don’t stand up, make noise, sit there with their bouffant haired girlfriend lookin’ like a big shot. I kinda got sick of that, who the hell are these people, where are the real fans? It turns out the real fans were always in the back of the room in the worst seats. We now hold those tickets, and I send my road crew out to the back of the room when the audience comes in and they get people from the worst seats and bring ‘em in to the front rows. This way you’ve got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans. We’ve tried to figure out how to beat the scalpers for years and years, hold off selling until the last minute, the wristband thing, limiting the amount of tickets people can get. You can’t fight that secondary market. There used to be anti-scalping laws and they let them lapse from the books. My theory is there’s a lot of tax revenue in those secondary ticket markets, these guys selling tickets for $500 to $1,000 gotta pay tax on it, and a lot more goes to government than there would be based on my ticket prices. So why should they enforce the scalping laws. We don’t want to play to big shots, I want to play to younger people, people who can only afford a low ticket price. They make the best audience, they make the most noise, they’re the most enthusiastic. It’s just hard to get to them any more. I tell the audience every night, “I hope you didn’t pay more than face value on that ticket, because we ain’t worth more than that, and you ain’t gonna get any more than that.”

- Backstage with Billy Joel

Tesla

on 28 March 2017

I’ve watched Tesla with interest as it has gone from a niche sports car for a handful of wealthy Silicon Valley execs, to being valued on the basis of becoming the largest producer of $35k mass-market hatchbacks.

Today Tesla’s market cap surpassed that of Ford. It was already more valuable than Nissan, and is now nearly five times the valuation of Mitsubishi. Toyota is a juggernaut and dwarfs all other brands with its market cap of $182bn.

There’s a lot of consternation at Tesla, which has yet to make a profit and has produced 186,000 cars in total over its lifespan, being more valuable than Ford, which sold 3 million cars in America last year alone.

But the two are not exclusive - in order for Tesla to grow, it has to take market share from competitors. I suppose a parallel would be complaining that Google is worth more than Yellow Pages, or that Apple, with one handset, is worth more than Nokia who make 100.

Tesla have done a lot of innovative things - they’ve taken an engineering driven approach to building a car. At the top end of cars this is nothing special, but the low end of the market is traditionally driven by pointless adverts showing exactly the same little hatchbacks driving around a city knocking over giant buckets of paint while girls sing. In other words - marketing bullshit. They have are literally differentiating themselves on whether you can drive three attractive friends to a party while doing loop the loops past high fiving construction workers.

The software and UI for almost all cars remains absolutely terrible and Tesla have got to grips with this.

I don’t believe we’ll see mainstream fully-autonomous self-driving cars within the next 10 years, but I do think Tesla will be the first to achieve it, Uber, Google and Apple are all just wasting time and money on it.

The Steve Jobs factor is high in Elon Musk, and I do worry that he’s spread too thin. But, thus far, he’s built a solid team with almost no departures and achieved an enormous amount.

I see no reason why Tesla shouldn’t achieve a valuation similar to Toyota, which would be a 4X from today. So I’m long Tesla, as I have been for about a year now.

The discord of movie reviews

on 27 March 2017

Movie ratings are largely pointless. That’s the only conclusion I can make of the complete disjoint between the last two movies I watched and their ratings.

Paterson

I have my statement prepared for when my time is up:

“Now look here Death, you can fuck off for a couple of hours. Because in 2017 I got cheated out of two hours of my life watching a film called Paterson.”

This film has 96% from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and 75% from the audience. It has some nice cinematography - and that’s it for the positives. The characters are dull and far from likeable. Absolutely nothing happens. There is no plot. We follow a couple through a week of absolute mediocrity and monotony.

The man is dull and boring, with almost no character. He writes shit poetry which he reads again and again. A tiny part of the plotline is that his girlfriend thinks he should get his poems published - but he doesn’t. He reminds me of people I know who sit slightly outside the world, observing it, missing out on everything in the hope that these observations can be compiled into a critically acclaimed book that never gets written.

And the woman also reminds me of people I know - sitting around unemployed because they’re too smart for a job, doing ridiculous little handicraft projects like selling handpainted clothes pegs (or in this case, black and white muffins.)

The irony of Paterson is that the only people I can imagine liking it are the couple portrayed in it. And since I know people like that I suppose that tells me who the audience is. But fuck it - I hated it and it has 96%.

Life

I watched Life last night. Going in I had absolutely no idea what I’d be watching since I didn’t pick it. I thought it was some sort of Sci-fi romance. But no - there’s a fucking scary alien octopus flying round a space station eating people and growing bigger. I’m not a big fan of sci-fi or horror but this was actually pretty well done. The acting was solid, the characters had a decent amount of depth.

I liked the storyline, and despite this not being my sort of genre, I came out of the cinema thinking that this must surely be acclaimed as a future classic. I enjoyed it more than Interstellar, which I can hardly even remember.

And the reviews? 66% from the critics, and 62% from the audience. Ridiculous.

Conclusion: I’ll stop even paying attention to the reviews and ratings.

3D content is getting exciting

on 23 March 2017

I’ve been dipping into various bits of 3D over the past couple of months:

  • Compositing models into videos for How a Car Works using Adobe After Effects and the Element3D plugin (super fast renders).
  • Playing with the HTC Vive VR headset
  • Relearning and modeling extensively with Blender
  • And now I’m exploring A-Frame which is a javascript library that lets you create VR experiences in the browser.

A couple of years ago I made some simple 3D content for How a Car Works and it was sluggish on any desktop, and unusable on a mobile device. Now I’m looking at a scene which is highly responsive on an iPhone 7 - and likely to get more so.

I’m not sure that VR headsets are going to be anything but a fad, but I think that 3D content is going to be widespread on the web shortly.

Szimpla and the fire exits

on 26 February 2017

Szimpla is the most famous bar in Budapest and listed as one of the world’s best bars. I estimate that it has a capacity of around 3,000 and has made the owners extremely wealthy. It also has absolutely no emergency exits - just a single front entrance. It would be closed within hours if it operated in the UK. But here in Budapest any rule, even the most basic safety ones, can be ignored for those with connections, power or money.

There have been a couple of incidents that I can recall over the past years where occupants of unsafe venues have been killed due to poor fire safety: 64 dead in Romania which caused huge protests at the corruption that enabled that nightclub to operate, and 33 dead in Oakland, CA. You’d think someone would have noticed that Budapest’s most famous bar doesn’t actually have a single emergency exit.

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