Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

New York - Day 4

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

We needed some groceries, so we wandered around our adopted neighbourhood a little in the morning. On the way to the Korean Supermarket on 32nd St we found Jim Hanley's Universe, a Mark-1-on-steroids where Fern could relive her childhood through Tintin Asterix. Every other shop in the neighbourhood is a souvenir store, but this one wins for most statue-ettes.

Some things at the grocers were a little reminder of home, and others were just a little strange!.

I thought the British liked queueing, but this beat it hands down.  We never found out why. At least they all had Bubble Guy to entertain them.

Greenwich Village, home of the rich and famous, location of Friends, although I never saw Monica or Ross picking up a copy of the PKWARE user manual from a street vendor!  We walked around the outside of the NYU campus, around Bleecker St, the home of music and culture immortalized in song by Paul Simon. I particularly respect their order of national prioritisation!


The Village is the home of the narrowest building in Manhattan, at 2.9m wide (number 75½), and next door at 77, the oldest building in the borough. Even regular width houses are hard to send mail to here. Parking is difficult also.

It's also home to a loud and proud gay district, which, as always, has its finger on the pulse of culture - only one week after the event.

We thought we'd check out the TKTS booth down in Times Square, and got half price tickets for the Monty Python music "Spamalot" literally 2 minutes before it started. Last minute tickets are invariably in the nosebleed section, but we enjoyed the show nonetheless. When Spamalot first premiered it was full of talented actors Tim Curry, Hank Azaria and Niles from Frazier.  All we got was Clay Aiken from American Idol. Afterwards, he attracted a large stage door audience (and was probably the owner of the limo), but we left before he did.

The counterfeit bag crew were out in Times Square also, but we managed to make it past the throngs of crazed bargain-hunting women and back to the subway toward home.

New York - Day 3

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Breakfast, then off to the subway to head down to Chinatown.

The back streets of Chinatown are full of childish laughs, arguments, odd looking food and things to buy.

I was on a mission to find a plate of kwai teow, the fantastic food described as "cholesterol on a platter". Possibly my favourite food ever. Not a lot of hope, before finding a Singaporean restaurant which served me up this piping hot platter of awesome.

Canal St, the main street of Chinatown, is full of counterfeit everything. While one store was noticeably shut down, there were dozens more where that came from. Guys on the street offered to sell you Rolexes and iPods, and every store was full of sunglasses, perfumes and handbags. Dolce and Gabbana seemed the brand of choice - all manner of brandless bags were labelled with the same little triangular logo, and no-one hid those. If you knew what to ask for, they'd let you go out the back and look at the Chanel bags, but asking for Louis Vuitton got you looked at suspiciously. We had to take two attempts, with a little Chinese lady telling us "no pictures! $10 for picture!", to sneak this Kanye West inspired photo.

From here, we headed down to Battery Park, grabbed sweet refreshment, and stared out at the lady of the harbour. From the free ferry out to Staten Island, one of the five boroughs that makes up New York City, you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty and boats on the harbour. (And birthday girls.) The return trip gives ample opportunities for photographs of the Manhattan skyline.

Day 3's gallery has many more harbour shots.

New York - Day 2

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Day 2 started late, and we went to the famous Dining Concourse in Grand Central Station for lunch - or, seeing as I'd managed to pick up a nasty and painful sore throat a few days before leaving, a soothing smoothie.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is on east side of Central Park, near the famous reservoir. The outlook of the day was a little bleak, but still impressive.

Entry to the museum is by donation, and you can pay as much or as little as you like. However, we didn't know you actually did have to pay something, because we pretty much just walked right in! Apart from the standard wing of paintings, the museum has a lot of interior design, sculpture, armoury, musical instruments, and other forms of art. I spent a lot of time looking for the unicorn tapestries, having seen copies being traditionally made at Stirling Castle last year. I eventually found out that these were at the Cloisters, a gallery of medieval art we would have to see another day.

Personal highlights of the Met:

(As you can tell, I have wicket good descriptive arty lingo.)

I love the description plate that comes with this piece of art. Puts "oil on canvas" to shame.

Day 2's gallery is full of art.

New York - Day 1

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Fern's birthday was in early April, and she had always wanted to go to New York City. What better birthday present than ten days in the big apple?

First, the logistics: driving to Buffalo, NY takes about 2½ hours, and shaves several hundred dollars off the cost of flying. A couple of JetBlue tickets (a low-cost US carrier) ran about $200 each, including tax, compared to the ~$600 each Air Canada would have charged out of Toronto.

Accommodation was an interesting dilemma, also neatly solved by the Internet. We found a listing on Craigslist put up by a woman named Lamia, who wanted to rent out her apartment while she was away for 10 days - almost exactly the 10 days I had wanted to take off - and made quick arrangements by e-mail, followed by slow arrangements by money order and post.

Crossing station at LewistonWe had a little problem driving across the border. You know when you pass through the US, and get given one of those little green cards, part of which you're expected to keep? No-one ever explains why, or what it actually does. It's a visa waiver, which lets you enter the country without explicitly being issued a visa, and it's valid for 90 days. If you re-enter the country less than 90 days after leaving it, and don't have the green card, you're in trouble. They actually make you pay $6 for its re-issue after they're convinced you're not going to be bad. Hint: don't say "we've rented an apartment", because even though you mean "for 10 days", they hear "forever".

Fern at JFKBuffalo Airport was pleasantly simple - you still get the checks on US domestic flights, but they'll let you on even with just a strange looking drivers' license, The flight was peaceful (the seat-back TV, instead of being on-demand, was live satellite TV, so I watched a little Battlestar Galactica and followed the US election on Faux News) and after just over an hour, we arrived at JFK.

In a complete contrast to Toronto's useless transit, JFK has a simple link with the NYC subway. Strangely, you pay $5 for the 10 minute AirTrain ride from the terminal to the subway station, and then $2 for the 45 minute subway ride into Manhattan.

The subway was stereotypical - by the time we got to the line we needed, both carrying suitcases and carry-on bags, we were abused by New Yorkers for taking up too much space. After a couple of changes it was a two-block walk to the apartment.

Lamia's room-mate is a painter named Russell, who met us at the apartment and told us a little bit about things to do. Unfortunately that was the last time we saw him, as he only came down to NY for the weekends.

Craig and stromboli.We went for a walk to get our bearings, and see how far away things were. The apartment was in the shadow of the Empire State Building, and Macy's on 5th Avenue was all of 5 minutes walk away. We walked up to Times Square (about 20 minutes uptown) and back, before grabbing some dinner - stromboli from Empire State Pizza. (Verdict: as with most North American pizza, too much meat and not enough onion/peppers/extra fillings.)

Check out the gallery for day 1 (including lots of great photos Fern took from the plane).

Ticket economics

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

When a band wants to tour, there are a number of factors that need to be considered. I think this is a problem to be solved by a gaggle of mathematically or economically minded persons.

Some assumptions:

The average band:

  • Wants to choose a size of venue based on the sort of show they want to put on (intimate club, stadium, etc)
  • Wants as many fans to see their show as possible, and at a reasonable price (determined by them and their management)
  • Will have to consider financial return on their tour:
    • Wants every show to be a sell-out
    • Will play more shows in bigger markets
    • Will still go to the odd small place to please fans there
    • Can't be expected to handle ticketing all on their own

So, we introduce:

The ticket agent (Ticketek/Ticketmaster etc)

Their motivations are different:

  • Keep a good relationship with the band (read: "their management")
  • Maximize profit for every show within the constraints they are given
  • Sell each ticket for the maximum possible value

Keeping in mind:

The scalper, or ticket tout

  • Is the nemesis of the band
  • Isn't cared about by the ticket agent at all

The last point is important - ticket agents, notably Ticketmaster, have noticed recently that people are obviously prepared to trade more money for a more guaranteed chance, or less standing in line, etc. They have started auctioning off the rights to better seats themselves, thus making their own profit and the scalper's profit, all in one. And even if they don't do this, if the show is a sell-out, their involvement is mostly over.

A small number of tickets are often put aside for a 'fan club presale'. If the presale were allowed to sell all of the tickets, smaller shows would surely sell out just on the presales. Then, the band only gets the die-hard fans, and loses the chance to show their music to new people. This idea also started to fall apart when scalpers started joining fan clubs.

Presale tickets often go onto eBay or Trade Me the moment they've been purchased. You can't make reselling tickets illegal, or it's not fair on people who honestly can't attend any more. If you make reselling tickets at a profit illegal, economists and free-market wonks complain, saying they obviously are worth what the market is paying. The band set a price lower than that because they don't want an audience full of rich people who don't like their music, they want an audience of their true fans.

U2 could have played two more nights in Dublin or any large world city and probably made more money than bringing the Vertigo tour to NZ. They did that because they wanted to play for fans in this area, and presumably because the more places you go, the flow-on from record sales etc increases.

I went to buy tickets for a gig today, and found that the better seats were reserved for people paying with American Express. So, another financial incentive is added for the ticket agent: the kickbacks from the credit card companies.

Some bands (U2 in NZ for example) save some tickets to release the day before the show, so people who missed out still have a chance at the price that they set, not the inflated-4x price that the scalpers set. This is something they obviously feel they have to do because the system is broken for them.

The problem that needs solving:

  • If you put the best tickets on presale for fans, they will be bought by scalpers and fans will miss out.
  • If you put the best tickets on sale for the people who get in first, they will be bought by everyone, and there's no incentive to run a presale.
  • If you put the best tickets on sale for substantially more (not just one price for Gold Circle and one for GA, but $500 for front row and $100 for everyone else) you will have a show full of rich people in the front row, who aren't really who the band wants to be there.
  • You can't really disallow reselling tickets.
  • To disallow reselling them for a profit would require buy-in from law enforcement and marketplaces, which isn't likely - especially if the marketplace profits from them.


Tim Finn, The Courthouse, Toronto: 7 Feb 2008

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

While Tim Finn shows are a dime a dozen in New Zealand, they're somewhat rarer here. Finn hasn't played solo in Toronto since the early 1990s.

Disagreement between the tickets and the venue about door opening time led to us arriving just on 9pm, which was either just right, or one hour later, missing the support act. Turns out neither of these was true: the venue wasn't even open at 9, for reasons unknown, so we all queued in the cold until everyone was rushed in and not 15 minutes later the support act was rushed onto stage.

Acoustic in front of the stageGlad we didn't miss it, either, because we were treated to a great set by Irish-Italian-American singer-songwriter-guitarist Eileen Rose, supported ably by her nephew Nicholas Ward on guitar and piano (I believe I used up my allocation of hyphens for the day on that sentence). A passionate set was unfortunately a little hampered by technical problems. Playing the final song caused bandsaw-esque feedback after about 20 seconds, so after three false starts (and numerous pleas to the unprepared soundman) Rose and Ward came down off their step and delivered the song unplugged.

The venue is a lovely old building with high ceilings and a good feeling of heritage. Their website has some nice pictures. A nice touch, something I've never seen before, was an LCD TV screen either side of the bar, displaying the output of a camera pointed at the stage. This neatly solved the problem of having to turn your back to the show in order to buy drinks.

Finn travels light: the prohibitive distance between New Zealand and North America has reduced his band The Dirty Creatures to guitarist Brett Adams and his foot-operated drum setup. A show in Milwaukee had to be canceled the night before due to bad weather, which he said was the first in 36 years.

The set was a good mix of songs from his latest album, Imaginary Kingdom; previous solo hits, Woodface and Split Enz numbers, and even a couple of new songs. Adams really adds colour to the performance and with drums from Finn's feet, a surprising full sound rang through the room. After a rough period in the 90s, Finn has been in great voice of late and this show was no exception.

I don't really like the new lower arrangement of How Will You Go that is being toured, but it's different.

Interesting to hear the requests called for after coming back for an encore - Hello Sandy Allen, Time For a Change and I Don't Wanna Dance were called for Tim claiming he could only remember how to play one, and not telling us what it was! (It was Time For A Change, but he didn't play it. "Not like Neil, he remembers everything!") Charley and What You've Done were considered, but we were eventually treated to a stripped bare version of I See Red. This was very unexpected, but karmic payoff after years of Ewan and I chanting "RED! RED! RED!" at encores. Sometimes even at The Feelers and Dave Dobbyn, because it's what you do.

A new album was promised, featuring Eddie Rayner and Miles Golding of Split Enz, along with Adams. It was said to have an acoustic, laid-back vibe, and could have an interesting sound as Golding has been a professional concert violinist since he left the Enz in 1973. He signed off with the obligatory "see you in November", but Counting Crows did that to me once and I'm still waiting.

There were a couple of audience members wearing merchandise from the 2006 Australian Split Enz tour and we overheard a discussion on the way out about Woodface this and Crowded House that. These people should move to New Zealand, where Geoff and Jamie get better seats than Eddie at Crowded House shows.

Bootleg fans may be interested in a copy of the show for themselves. I recorded a couple of videos of the new songs, one of which (entitled Making a Mockery) can be seen here:

Or, check out more Tim Finn and Eileen Rose photos on my gallery.

Small treats

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Split EnzGeoff points out to me that Split Enz are playing in Auckland, a week from today. I'm not immeasurably jealous, having seen them with Ewan in 1999 (help - that's almost 10 years ago!), but with any band formed in the 70s there's always the chance that it's the last time you could ever see them regroup. Unless it's Elton John, of course. He's bionic, and there's less of him to try and get in one place at once.

One of the good things about living in New Zealand is that occasionally you can see a little private gig from a Finn brother that fans in the US would kill for. In September, I traded that for the land of Celine Dion and apologies. But the treats do sometimes come.

Dan AykroydI took a train downtown for a job interview last September, and was reading the Metro1 when I was alerted to the fact that Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies (another of my all-time favourite bands) was playing a free show, in a concourse2 downtown, that lunchtime. Wow.

The show was organised by the LCBO, the Ontario liquor control agency3, who were launching a campaign for Ontario wine. The attractions were Page and Dan Aykroyd, one-time Blues Brother and now winery investor.

Steven PageAykroyd gave a little talk before Page came out, accompanied by his guitar. He played a five-song set, including starting Old Apartment twice (it was meant to be Brian Wilson, but you know, musicians like to write the same song over and over again, and sometimes get confused). He was then joined by Aykroyd on harmonica and vocal for some 12-bar blues.

Press took pictures, wine was imbibed (including free samples for the audience) and Aykroyd was on hand to sign bottles. I didn't care much for his unfortunately, but I believe there were more varieties on the way. Living in NZ, our standards for wine and food are pretty high!

(See photos of Steven Page and Dan Aykroyd at the LCBO VQA launch.)

Later on I learned from the same paper that Slash would be at a book signing in a week's time but unfortunately I couldn't make it to that.

  1. A giveaway paper targeted primarily at commuters. 
  2. Fancy word for "indoor shopping mall" 
  3. Government controlled: think West Auckland's Portage and Waitakere Trusts. That bureaucracy once ID'd Jamie when he, at age 28 (and lets face it, just a little bald) went in to buy a bag of ice. 

In which Craig becomes Sandwich Maker

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Omelette for dinner. Verdict: it would have been better if the fillings were cooked into the egg, rather than just sprinkled on. Otherwise, the suggestions about flipping were spot-on. A smaller pan would probably have made a nicer (fatter) omelette.

What is particularly of note though, is if you butter two pieces of toast, add avocado and garlic mayonnaise, and place leftover omelette betwixt, you have a breakfast sandwich fit for a king.

Welcome back

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Our welcome back.


Back in NZ

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

RaglanI should probably have posted this two weeks ago, but hey, I arrived in NZ two weeks ago, Fern shortly after.

Synopsis: The weather is a bit nicer here than Kitchener. Ask me about my fifteen minutes of famous-person story. Jamie and Tammy are married now. And no sooner than it was here, it was gone - we are leaving again on Friday or Saturday.

Not long after we arrived, we bumped into a couple of friends from a customer of my old work, who are apparently quite regular blog checkers! Hi, Juliette and Yonita, and hope you know lots about debugging IIS now. If anyone else reads this the old-fashioned way, there's a link to the right of this post that reads "Have updates sent by e-mail". Click it, or the link in the previous sentence, and enter your e-mail address for a totally spam-and-advertising-less copy of each post, in your inbox, as I write it.

Which is, obviously, once every not often enough.

You can also use a news-reader and RSS, which stands for Rodeo Style Syndication something geeky, but is neatly explained in very plain Queen's English in this here video:

I promise to do more on our return to Canada to make for interesting reading. In the meantime, a friend of mine from improv in Toronto writes online a fair bit, and even represented bloggers in Canada's televised IQ test "Test the Nation" recently. Even though bloggers are smarter than the average Canadian, I don't really want to be one. I just write stuff down so the Internet knows about it.