Progress Continues

Work continues. We’re now halfway through the initial exterior work on the house.

Our contractors have also started on the basement. After an initial cleaning of thyey, scraped off loose mortar from the foundation stonework in the basement and put down a new layer of concrete and I believe some kind of vapor barrier as well. One side of the basement was low and damp and our contractor said water was probably coming up from below the floor, so we went ahead and had them jackhammer through the floor there and dig better drainage under the house, then fill it with gravel and lay a new concrete floor on that side.

In photos the basement doesn’t look like much right now. But before all this work it was like a mildew-smelling horror movie set and now it looks like the sort of place where you would not be terrified to go searching for spare lightbulbs.

Still to do in the basement: Adjust/repair basement windows, replace any insulation that’s compressed or missing, shore up a couple under-supported beams, level out a section of the floor that’s a trip hazard, replace HVAC and water heater, replace waste outlet pipe, replace utility sink…. probably some other stuff.

Marketing’s enthusiast problem

When you think motorcycle rider, you might think of a dentist on a big Harley cruising around on the weekends. But your average motorcyclists live in India or Southeast Asia and have a 250cc or smaller motorbike as the primary transportation for their household. The American motorcycle market consists almost entirely of enthusiasts, and they’re visible. But manufacturers, if they want to sell anything in volume, need to keep the meat of the market in their sights.

Automakers have a similar enthusiast problem: Their most dedicated fans are not, in fact, their best customers. And focusing on their most enthusiastic customers can lead them into serious trouble.

Honda, for a while, wanted to be the cool car company. So they made some cool cars, and they courted the aftermarket tuner crowd. The next thing you know, their brand was tainted by things like this:

Your typical driver is not a car enthusiast. Your typical driver has an appliance that takes them places. Jalopnik and the other car media may hate beige, but the enthusiasts are merely the most vocal segment of the market. If the average driver buys a car magazine, it’s the Consumer Reports car issue. And they only buy that when they’re in the market for a new car.

When you look for the enthusiast problem, you see it everywhere. Home electronics, video games, PCs, you name it. The enthusiast audience thinks it’s the real audience. In many cases, the industry leaders are enthusiasts themselves – that’s why they went into the industry, after all. But that means they often fail to understand that their audience doesn’t love their products the same way they do.

The average college student is not a 19-year-old fraternity brother. The average video-game player is not playing FPS games on a console and drinking Mountain Dew. The average car-buyer is not looking for an engaging drive. The average PC buyer is not actually chasing clock speed.

Obviously, you need to know your customers. And when you think you really understand them, you’re probably wrong.

Maybach Music

Now that Maybach the car brand is going the way of the Pontiac, what will become of Rick Ross’ record label, Maybach Music?

Oh, but that’s not the point.

Remember “Juicy,” with the line “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke man I couldn’t picture this?” Think about those aspirations and celebrations and compare them to a record label whose entire brand promise is that it’s as opulent as a car that costs more than a house (Seriously: The cheapest model had a base price of $344,000).

I wonder whether that brand promise also includes obese styling and unprofitability. Probably.

That was not a positive review

Mentioned on Twitter and expanded here: Dan Neil’s recent review of the Porsche Panamera GTS is decidedly mixed. The people posting comments at the WSJ (yes, I know, newspaper comment sections – where civility and intelligence go to die) don’t seem to get that, however. They’ll debate the relative merits of the Maserati Quattroporte, or argue about whether sedan and SUV brand extensions are appropriate strategy for a company known most for roadsters.

But they don’t address the fact that Neil is trolling Porsche fans and supercar drivers in general. That’s why he begins by casting the Panamera as the car in a modern-day remake of The Great Gatsby. The fact that Gatsby owns a Rolls Royce, he says, means something – that’s why Neil is so annoyed to see it swapped for a Duesenberg in the most recent movie. Gatsby had a Rolls Royce because buying one was a quick, vulgar, ostentatious status symbol in the Roaring 20s.

Look, we all might think it would be grand to live like Gatsby, but that’s not the point of the novel, and that fabulous car and those fabulous shirts don’t actually make Gatsby good or great.

So, what does Fitzgerald’s novel have to do with a $150,000 sport sedan like the Panamera GTS? Dan Neil is a clever writer but not a subtle one, so he actually says it twice: Like Gatsby’s Rolls Royce, the Panamera GTS tells the world that you’re desperate for people to envy you, and that you’ve got more money than brains. It is, he says, the perfect car for the rich to drive while committing vehicular manslaughter.

That’s not a positive review. Sure, he loves the acceleration and the beautifully stitched leather interior, and he obviously enjoyed his afternoon in the driver’s seat, but he’s not willing to give an ounce of respect to anyone rich and vulgar and dumb enough to actually buy the damn thing.

The Price Of Metal Makes No Sense To Me

Until I started shopping for jewelry this past week I didn’t pay much attention to the price of precious metals. Certainly not to the relative prices of precious metals, although I was vaguely aware that gold was very expensive these days and that certain less-than-trustworthy characters were cheering it on.

But today I learned that gold is almost three times as expensive as palladium, and in fact almost as expensive as platinum. The price of non-precious metals like copper and aluminum has sunk with the economy, and the price of platinum, which has both industrial and jewelry applications, is cheaper than it was a year or two ago. Only gold, which is not really that useful, has risen.

This seems totally wrong to me. Can anyone explain?

It’s More Like Undead Universe

I’ve been debating posting about this because I’ve been afraid that it will come back to haunt me in some way. But frankly, if complaining about inconveniences and speculating about other peoples business on the Internet is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Here’s my question: When is a company dead? When can you bury it?

I’m thinking specifically of LiveUniverse. The company was started by Brad Greenspan, who was one of the original backers behind MySpace. LiveUniverse is basically a roll-up of media websites tied to an ad network. Not a terrible business model, but the media websites themselves have to draw traffic, and they just haven’t been in the top tier.

For example, they bought the startup I used to work for, MeeVee. By total coincidence, I was departing MeeVee at the same time, so LiveUniverse only had me in its employ for one day.

They were supposed to send me some kind of paperwork about my stock options, but they never did. I don’t mind, since the odds of them being worth anything were never very good, and are worse now. That was probably the first sign of trouble. There were others, later, but I won’t bore you.

The big question mark came about a month ago, when Brad Greenspan was forced to issue a press release insisting that the company is doing fine, despite their websites all disappearing for couple days. Both major service outages and press releases saying there’s nothing wrong are big signs that something’s wrong, but website outages can happen to the best of us.

Worse signs are things like failing to send out W2s to former employees. Sure, paperwork can get lost in an acquisition, but really, your payroll provider should handle that paperwork for you. Obviously, I didn’t get my tax paperwork.

When I called to inquire about it, I found that their phone had been disconnected. That’s kind of a bad sign. Although I suppose it’s possible their website just has a typo on the “Contact Us” page.

More likely, LiveUniverse seems to be totally dead.

The only thing is, there’s been no obituary. No notice of going under. Their websites are, in fact, still loading, although the content hasn’t been updated in awhile and the TV listings on MeeVee are all broken.

TechCrunch had a post awhile back in which they asserted that death was at hand, but comments and updates disputed it. No mention in the Wikipedia page about Brad. No bankruptcy filings. Just… silence.

If a company goes under and TechCrunch isn’t there to gloat, is it still in business?