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Archive for November, 2004

Cold turkey, etc

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, November 30th, 2004

We had a tranquil Thanksgiving break, chiefly occupied with eating lemon meringue pies and hiking. We went up to Lookout over Black Mountain a number of times and also drove over to Yellow Mountain section of the Appalachian trail. We had sandwiches at this barn and then hiked to the top of this bald or one like it. On one of our hikes, we passed a happy fellow who told us Taco looks just like his cousin’s dog — a “Newfoundland duck polling retriever.” Most people try to pin our mutt as an Australian shepherd, so I thought he was joking. But at home I did some lateral Googling and found the “Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever”… and there is some resemblance. We found a giant cricket, apparently dead, who thawed out by the time we got home. Named Lassie.

I’ve been reading AJ Leibling and enjoyed these lines:

“‘But we never did come together again for the reason that the Guildsman found out they could do just as well themselves [rainmaking] provided they had the right sort of Cannon.'”

“Whatever Hearst’s talents as a newspaperman and an operator of newspapers, this principal contribution to American journalism — a contribution that changed the whole nature of the profession — was to demonsrate that a man without previous newspaper experience could, by using money like a heavy club, do what he wanted in the newspaper world except where comparable wealth opposed him. It was a concept as simple as a very big bank roll in a very small crap game.”

The Economist on blogs:

Old media also face a newer and more unpredictable source of competition – the blogosphere. Bloggers have discovered that all you need to set yourself up as a pundit is a website and an attitude. All through the recent election campaign, the new media outsmarted the old media when it came to setting the news agenda’
… all orthodoxies are being chewed up by a voraciously unpredictable news media, which is surely all to the good.

Thanksgiving in Reno.

Though it lost the game, Yale trounced Harvard with a prank.

Erik D’Amato’s stunning “Worst of Budapest” is a must for the expat hordes. Though fitting, the wall-paper should go.

“Blog” is the least understood word of the year. “A Merriam-Webster spokesman said it was not possible to say how many times blog had been looked up on its Web sites but that from July onward, the word received tens of thousands of hits per month.”

Ensconced in Geneva, Humphrey tells me about Hedgestreet. Humphrey’s the smartest financeer I know; thinks the $ is going down another 20% but reminds us the Europeans will suffer most, since their exports will be slaughtered by goods manufactured in $-pegged China.

Finally, here’s an interesting precedent for entrepreneurs peddling their wares with an eye on current events: a teapot (made in England!) in 1770 for sale in the colonies bearing the legend “No Stamp Act.” A reminder that a good news hook can sell just about anything.


WSJ: Harrah uses science to stimulate sales

by henrycopeland
Monday, November 22nd, 2004

Over the past decade, casino moguls such as Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian built glamorous resorts in Las Vegas that depend on tourists — especially high rollers who make big bets. Harrah’s thinks those consumers aren’t as profitable as regular gamblers because it costs more to lure them to the casino.

Based on the data churned out by this system, Harrah’s redid the layout of the East Chicago casino’s slot machines, using lessons learned from drugstore chains such as Walgreens and CVS. For example, the casino moved popular slots such as Wheel of Fortune to hard-to-reach areas, betting customers would seek them out just as they find the pharmacist in the rear of a store. That created more space in well-trafficked areas for other games.

To generate excitement, Harrah’s placed a “party pit” with blackjack and roulette games in a central location and staffed it with dealers trained to break into song. Around the pit, the casino replaced nickel slots with $5 Double Diamond and Hot Pepper games previously cloistered on an upper deck for high rollers, hoping low rollers would turn from the tables and take a flier on their way out. “This is the candy bars by the cash register,” says David Patent, vice president of casino operations.

The theory worked. The average amount spent on a single bet on these machines soared to $10, compared with $2 in the casino overall, because new gamblers were drawn to high-denomination slots. Overall, the casino’s profit margins rose to 15% in the third quarter, compared with 12% in the busy first quarter when that casino usually expects to earn its highest margins, Mr. Patent says.

In one effort rolled out first in East Chicago this fall, Harrah’s dispatches “luck ambassadors” to give nominal gifts to big losers — people who are losing more than expected as tracked by the boat’s central computer system and Harrah’s loyalty cards. Harrah’s has learned that gamblers are more likely to play longer and make a return trip if they receive a small goody.

Richard Pearlman recently lost about $100 at video poker. As he was licking his wounds, Brenda Freeman Winfield, a Harrah’s luck ambassador, sidled up to his Deuces Wild machine. Mr. Pearlman told her he was feeling “terrible.”

“This will change your luck,” she said, handing him a $5 cash voucher. Mr. Pearlman, an 81-year-old resident of Buffalo Grove, Ill., brightened immediately. He winked and asked her to throw in “a blonde and two redheads” as he signed the voucher and turned back to the machine.

A successful intervention, says David Norton, a Harrah’s senior vice president of marketing, will leave a customer saying: “OK, so I lost my $75, but I got two-for-one” tickets to a Harrah’s show.

Recently, a joint promotion with toymaker Hasbro Inc., maker of the game Monopoly, had the casino buzzing. Patrons stopped at a lobby desk to pick up a Monopoly game and register for a Harrah’s drawing to win prizes including cash and trips to other casinos. Gamblers, Harrah’s has found, love drawings, which offer a whole new range of ways to get lucky. Harrah’s loves drawings, too, because they keep patrons in casinos longer while they wait to hear the results.

Harrah’s patrons can apply for a Total Rewards loyalty card and receive points toward anything from a hotel stay to catalog gifts; the more they gamble, the better the perks become. Each cardholder is assigned a “customer value” based on the theoretical revenue they will generate. Customers with higher values get quicker responses from Harrah’s phone systems. When a gambler dials Harrah’s toll-free reservation line, the computer bounces the number off its database and places the caller in the appropriate service queue.

The operator who picks up the phone is trained not to let on that the caller has been recognized. “That would be too creepy,” says Rich Mirman, Harrah’s senior vice president in charge of development, and a trained mathematician and economist.

Unlike rivals such as MGM Mirage, Harrah’s tries hard to keep less profitable nongambling customers out of its hotels by calculating their customer value and making them pay through the nose. In October, a room at the aging Harrah’s Las Vegas was quoted to a caller at a nightly rate of $199, only $14 cheaper than a super-luxury room at Bellagio.

A frequent gambler could be charged anything from nothing to $199 at the Harrah’s casino, the company says. The price is based on a complex mathematical formula that takes into account how long the customer typically stays and what games he or she plays, among other details.

In one of Harrah’s biggest changes, the company has reconfigured the duties of its VIP hosts, who take care of the company’s biggest gamblers, previously one of the most old-fashioned jobs in the business.

In his gray-walled cubicle in East Chicago, Mr. Salvador’s job is more of a telemarketer than a traditional casino VIP host. Instead of spending time on the golf course or the casino floor, as hosts do elsewhere, Harrah’s hosts must phone at least 240 customers each month. The old hosts “were spending all their time on the loyal customers,” says Mr. Norton, who worked at American Express before joining Harrah’s. “We wanted them to stimulate sales.”

Unhappy with their new duties, about a quarter of Harrah’s hosts left after the company implemented the system about a year ago, the company says. But telemarketing is fueling Harrah’s VIP business, which is growing by about 20% a year, Mr. Norton says. Next year, Harrah’s plans to give its hosts hand-held computers to log every interaction they have with a customer, even a chat on the casino floor.

That information will come in handy as Harrah’s begins to move its customers around its soon-to-be expanded network. With new resorts in Las Vegas — increasing its holdings there to six from two — Harrah’s is planning to expand its cross-marketing. Customers who graduate from regional casinos to one of Harrah’s hubs tend to stay longer and spend more. Even a small number of extra trips will add significantly to Harrah’s sales.


by henrycopeland
Saturday, November 20th, 2004

Friday night, we went to see the UNC women trounce the Elon basketball team. Saturday, the last soccer of the season. Yesterday, with temperatures in the 60s, we hiked on the Loblolly trail at the William B. Umstead park.

Finally, an eight year old boy, contemplating a trip to NY, asks “when we go to that Statue of Liberty, can I steer the canoe?”


by henrycopeland
Wednesday, November 17th, 2004

I’m in Atlanta for the day, in part to participate in this panel.

A tip for e-nomads: some ATL staff claim there is no wifi access. Others say you have to pay 65 cents a minute to “Laptop Lane.” But if you park in the seats across from the Delta Crown Club (at least in terminal A), you can hook into their T-mobile wifi, assuming you have a T-mobile subscription.

Bloggers on the beat

by henrycopeland
Monday, November 15th, 2004

Blogger Jarvis has an ugly scoop: biggest recent FCC fine results from three letters.

Think the FCC is just about dunning smut? Consider that our local NPR station now won’t let a sponsor mention “reproductive rights” lest the FCC be politically offended.

Hysteria mounts among elderly publishers!!!

by henrycopeland
Friday, November 12th, 2004

Check out the hysterical journalese in today’s NYTimes front page story about blogger analysis of election fraud theories: “all the twitchy cloak-and-dagger thrust of a Hollywood blockbuster” … “an online market of dark ideas” … “the swift propagation of faulty analyses”… “ground zero in the online rumor mill” … “a breathless cycle of hey-check-this-out”… “a round of Web log hysteria”… “second-guessing… has largely characterized the blog-to-e-mail-to-blog continuum. Some election officials have become frustrated by the rumor mill” … “the online fact-finding machine has come unmoored” … “‘a snowball of hearsay.'”

Gee, the only semantic tar missing are “Satanism” or “fundamentalism.” Note that only the last of those wonderful nuggets of purple prose was actually generated by someone other than a journalist, the blogger’s erstwhile competitor for public mind-share.

Of course, the whole process may have been positive, the Times admits. “While the widely read universe of Web logs was often blamed for the swift propagation of faulty analyses, the blogosphere, as it has come to be known, spread the rumors so fast that experts were soon able to debunk them, rather than allowing them to linger and feed conspiracy theories.”

And of course, the story is “balanced” with a quote from John Byrne of BlueLemur saying, “Of course you can say blogs are wrong. Blogs are wrong all the time.”

I’ve got some questions.

1) Has the Times yet covered this debate, which prompted a letter by three congressmen to the GAO last Friday? No, at least not if my search of the Times archive is accurate. If this is something experts have been debating, is this article about bad bloggers just a lame way to back into the story?

2) Since the main point of the story seems to be that “blogs are baaaaad; oh, and by the way, they’ve unearthed something interesting we haven’t covered yet,” there’s some vital context missing. For example, why aren’t readers reminded that that the same new “hysterical rumor-mill marketting dark ideas in a breathless cycle of hey-check-this-out building a snow-ball of hearsay” has, in the last year, discredited the likes of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, editor of the NYTimes Howell Raines and CBS anchorman Dan Rather?

Anyone for some wild and unsubstantiated theorizing about that omission should start a blog or post a comment here…

New blogs on the block

by henrycopeland
Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Azeem Azar, journalist, bon vivant and wearer of horrid paisely shirts, has launched a couple of blogs, one about UK politics, the other about travel.

NYTimes.com traffic figures — exclusively here on my blog :)

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, November 9th, 2004

Last week Comscore released some figures that indicated that NYTimes.com had roughly 1 million visitors on election day. That sounded low, since NYTimes.com had 1.1 million visitors on election day 2000. So I wrote the Times and asked (yes, bloggers can interview the press as well as vice versa.) Old media ain’t dead yet folks. Congratulations NYT. I got back this impressive chart:


Night on the town

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, November 9th, 2004

I enjoyed a couple of whiskeys at the Whiskey Bar on 47th and Broadway last night with Tig Tillinghast, Steve Hall, Anne Holland, Brian Clark, Jason Calacanis and other folks who handed me their cards. I then wandered over to a bigger party on 44th street — thousands of drunk online ad people, partying like the bubble never burst. Too loud to talk, so I left and walked down to Han Bat to indulge in a big bowl of bibimbab.

Bloggers bad, secrets good

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, November 9th, 2004


In trying to diagnose what went awry on Election Day, many of bloggers’ critics seemed to be saying the Internet was at it again, and this time that creepy cesspool of comic-book geeks and pornographers was spitting out bad election data. But it’s not as if Matt Drudge and Ana Marie Cox were making up numbers while sitting at home in their PJs. The numbers they and other bloggers posted came from the National Election Pool, an organization owned by the big networks and the Associated Press. NEP’s numbers go to those outfits and to other media organizations that pay boatloads of money to get a peek. The numbers weren’t some Internet invention, but data generated at the request of the mainstream media.

And it wasn’t just wild-eyed bloggers who saw them and believed them, with or without the necessary caveats. The joy on James Carville’s face was obvious — and according to numerous reports, so was the gloom in President Bush’s camp. The problem is that those numbers were terribly misleading, not that bloggers had them. And yet, somehow, we find ourselves in a referendum on blogs. If talk-show hosts had been reading the exit-poll numbers into their mikes, would we be knee-deep in worries about this crazy new technology called radio?

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