Top Gear Season 17

It is almost that time again. June 12 26th the 17th season of Top Gear UK starts. The marketing gurus at the BBC have finally decided to run the same season in the USA on BBC America as in the UK. Last season this meant a 2 week lag time, but considering the editing needed that was pretty good. Now I’m seeing daily posts on my Facebook feed reminding me that it is coming back with some big social media campaign and we’re only a week away.

I am somewhat jaded about this season though, because of a lot of controversy that has surrounded the show and the presenters in the off-season. I have also been watching this show for far longer than most people (since 2004) and think it has been some of the best TV ever created.  One thing should be clear about this list, I love Top Gear and have been telling everyone about it for the last seven years, so these issues may be different than the way you feel about the show not having a long history with it. Some of my concerns to think about before you set your DVR/TIVO to record the season and commit yourself to 10+ hours of TV:

1. Jeremy Clarkson is an arse. We all know this, and he amplifies the rudeness of his character for laughs most of the time even if it isn’t his real personality. There is also a charismatic charm there, but he seems a whole lot less charming lately. There have been reports about evidence linking him to dating a female crew member on the Top Gear MPH Tours (he is married). He even wrote about it in a printed piece in 2010 thinking nobody would get it.  Well this whole issue kinda spoils it for most women fans of Top Gear. Most women find a charming guy that is married kinda interesting but a charming cheat isn’t going to work out for anyone. The mystique is lost. This whole thing was clumsy and a mess for someone that has been grooming his career for decades. The only twist I can think of with this story is to possibly meet Chelsea Handler if he does decide to get a divorce. With his wife having been his long time manager, this whole issue has put Top Gear in a precarious position knowing they still have to work together.

2. Richard & James have had as many TV series going as Jeremy made in the last 25 years. Therefore, I think they’re stretched a bit thin. I also think they’re both losing the newness of the experience that create the genuine reactions on camera that really resonated with the audience. (if you’ve seen one Bugatti, you’ve seen them all) Jeremy entertains but the people relate to James and Richard. But with so many super cars of their own now, is this really exciting anymore? I kinds feel like they need some time off to get back to their roots of why they are not Tim Allen or Jay Leno and why that made them great presenters.

3. They’ve possibly run out of new things to do. The show has even used some of my anonymously posted ideas (Bonneville salt flats)  Possibly because they thought of them too. But if I’m no pro are they scraping the bottom of the barrel? I do think they have created some of the best TV in history, but that is such a high mark to meet again and again. I foresee cross promotion coming with all Top Gear country teams (UK, USA, AUS, RUS, CH) pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle of automotive wonder, with subtitles of course.  I think they need to start looking further from car entertainment ideas and into other types of shows/experiences and bring the cars into them in order to keep the originality high.  The USA Show has a lot of possibility because it is new, and I am almost more excited about their prospects than the UK team right now.

4. There are BBC budget cuts. And it is hard to coordinate script writers, the best cameramen & editors on the planet and all the special effects and projects that go into the show on a smaller budget. Those sweeping helecopter shots aren’t cheap and all the automakers use them in their commercials now too. Heck Jeremy Clarkson may have to start doing his own driving. (check the windows when they show exterior shots of the car, grayed out, it’s not the rainy weather either).

5. And last but not least, They’ve run out of tricks. The comment from Ben Collins about wearing a curly wig to do Jeremy’s power slides hit me hard. I know Jeremy Clarkson is good at managing Top Gear because he has done many different shows on UK TV over the last 25 years. Heck, you’ve looked up the Motorworld show? Far less interesting, and in one he rides a motorcycle (very well btw) around the track at the F1 race in Monaco. Jeremy has had a lot of time to figure things out and evolve into what Top Gear has become. But I think the word is out about  how pre-planned and manipulated things are to get them on camera and ultimately what seems like reality but is not. I’m not sure people are going to be so fiercely loyal to a show that manipulates things so heavily and has abandoned the accidental funny that used to happen. Some people might call this jumping the shark.

The one thing that Top Gear UK has in its favor is that there is rarely if ever any good TV on in the summer in the USA. True, people are outside and not in their living rooms as much in the evenings while it is warm outside, but the DVR saves you while most shows are off season and you don’t have to compete for an audience.

So, will you still be watching? I want to but I’m a bit scared it won’t be like it used to be.

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Government Income Taxes in History

income tax brackets rates through history united states usa

income tax brackets rates through history united states USA

(click graph to see full size version) I was just looking at this really interesting infographic of the income tax rates for the United States over the last century or so. It is an interesting graph because it makes it very clear that the wealthiest people are paying the lowest taxes by percentage of any time in our country’s history. By contrast the low and middle class are paying the most they’re paid or close to the most. 

I’m not sure how the government got away with a 90% tax rate in any time period, but it sure looks like they did. As much as I think the wealthiest people need to pay more again, nobody deserves that.  It makes the 5-10% increase in taxes we need on the wealthy people making over 1 million a year now seem paltry and insignificant. 

According to the graph the yellow areas say that in the 50’s and 60’s if you made more than $10 million you gave 90% of it to the Government. Wow. (9 million?) That doesn’t really seem plausible although they tell a story about boxing matches being held only yearly for this reason. There has to be something between 90% and 35% though because these people are the cash cows of our country/economy and are the only ones that can actually pay for the fancy jet security and government health care. 

Also I found it interesting that in the early 90’s people making less than 10K had to go from 0% tax to 15%? That is a big loss for the part-time workers of the country and it happened just in time for me to start working at my first job. Someone making 9K would lose $1350 to taxes, a huge sum for someone who may be just scraping by. Previously in history this tax bracket was taxes between 10-20%, so it has been higher, but the logic seems difficult that the people who make the least are losing the least also. Maybe if more government programs like healthcare actually give back to this income bracket this will be a more justified expense.  

I am also surprised looking at the top income bracket at 50% through the 1980’s and it re-frames how to think about Ronald Regan’s presidency (known for cutting taxes), but seeing that he got a larger percentage of paychecks to finance things with during a time of de-regulation and government cuts, no-wonder he was able to make things work. I doubt he would have believed that the tax rates should go as low as they are today though seeing how much government is expected to provide. 

Seeing over time how high these income tax rates have been in order for the country to survive and knowing what people expect from government right now (more services), I think we will have to return to the previous income tax rates and raise business tax rates at the same time to make up the difference even in a good economy. We have a huge budget deficit, increasing costs and government loans that are ballooning (bonds that are declining in value). Things aren’t looking good. It’s all our civic duty to pay taxes and the country can’t survive without it.

Ways Google Has Changed Media Consumption Behaviors

I was glancing at Google Fast Flip today and it struck me that they have been successful not only in providing what people want but in some ways changing human media consumption behavior.

We all know that Google has turned the media world upside down with the humble text ad because of it’s ad matching relevance and pay-per-click business model.

They have up-ended the rest of the media world because they have influenced people to stop using it. This may be completely un-intentional, but I think it has happened.

The obvious way is that Google has  gained brand preference as a reference tool and a information source on limitless topics. But there is another behavior that they have changed is not usually talked about.

This change in how people consume information is that they can scan headlines now and glean what has happened in the world without actually viewing the ads around the content. (or visiting the content site, via rss, email, search engine, aggregator or google news) This has been bad for online ad inventory (although some may say we need less inventory to drive up prices, not more) and worse for recouping the cost of producing the content.

I don’t think that Google is stealing anything like copyrighted material by linking headlines from Google News, the search engine or screen shots Google Fast Flip. That would be like saying you are stealing copyrighted material by cutting out an article about a local festival coming up and posting it on the break room bulletin board for your coworkers to see.

I do think there does need to be revenue sharing for content sharing on some level though. How this should come about, I haven’t the slightest clue yet. And it can’t happen in the search engine because it seems to vast to fully comprehend let alone orchestrate.

I do think Google wants to be in the media business without actually producing any content, and they don’t usually ask for exclusivity with that content. Google wants to provide more products for consumer use and consumption of information branded offline. If they offer basic content for free on these product/services and upgraded content for a fee they should share the fee with the content providers. The rates may depend on usage and of course demand, and they will probably always be in flux. (no more rate card anything)

Yet I think it’s important that these shared fees (content payments) should be as low as Adsense revenue share since Adsense revenue is largely regarded as welfare for website owners. It needs to be enough to incentivize content providers to really feel like Google is a partner in their business and devoted to a positive business relationship.

The alternative may be that someday you have to pay a large content creator to crawl its site and republish parts of the content. Yes sharing is good, but if the content borrower doesn’t bring in enough revenue (analytics can tell you if your google news readers view, click or buy things) then is it profitable to be hosting the traffic from that source? (yes, hosting costs a ton of money for large content sites) I guess everyone thought they could replace millions of dollars in branding with a simple search engine relevance project and all their traffic generation problems would be solved. It’s never that easy. You have to own the relationship with your customer, you can’t outsource that to Google or anyone else.

Trust is also one of the BIG hurdles Google has to overcome to really being a star in the B2B space. Google has always believed that any process can be automated by a computer and nobody needs to talk to a human because humans are either too expensive or busy engineering things. This seems to enrage some humans, mostly the ones that run large companies. Also, No customer service and No sales people that can actually answer your questions along with ridiculous inflated PPC rates have actually eroded their text ad client base in the last 2-3 years. (and that whole display thing isn’t really looking great for ROI either when you consider people under 30 don’t respond to them at all)

So, in order for Google to really keep that growth going, they need to compensate content creators when re-publishing their content on/in their branded products in the future or the content creators with the greatest authority won’t be there for very long. Yes, some laid-off journalists are blogging but in 20 years how many will be left doing any journalism at all if it doesn’t pay and very few newspapers exist?

I also think all businesses need to stop every few months and think about the future. We’re too busy overloaded with tasks from laid off coworkers to really do this, but in a profitable world we would make time to consider where things are going in 3,6,12 and 24 months out (not a swat analysis, those take too long and are somewhat cumbersome) and really think about what they think the business should be doing to compete and win and innovate.

Chicago CTA Rant – Where are the Busses? Commuting Problems

I have been a commuter in Chicago for about 3 years now. I was initially excited to abandon my car in it’s parking space during the week and walk to the EL train and then to work every day. I have saved a bucket-load of cash not paying for gas or parking downtown since I have worked in that area. I was able to get to work in 1 hour from door to door, and it would be faster if I caught the CTA Train right when I got to the station. It was never more than a 10 minute wait for a green line though.

All these things changed recently when I moved in with my Fiance in Warrenville. (I had been living in Oak Park for the last 7 years) Now I am only tied to downtown Chicago by the METRA trains. Which is very frustrating since the BNSF only comes in to Union Station which is all the F way over west of the loop and not walkable to Michigan Avenue. 

This means you have to fill that gap with more public transport since cabs are too expensive to take every day. Your choices are the CTA elevated Trains which aren’t really by Union Station or Michigan Avenue either or the CTA Buses. Everyone said the Buses were the way to go. And for all the ranting about Metra, the CTA Buses have ended up being far more problematic than the Train. (although the train has been so packed the last 2 days that people have been standing in the isles in all the cars)

This morning for example it was a 1/2 hour wait for a 121 bus by Union Station. WTF? They are supposed to run every 12-15 minutes per the CTA Site. Last night was no better. I caught the 151 bus to Union Station for a change (most days I wait a 1/2 hour for that at 6 pm also) and then there was no Train until 6:50 pm. I spent a 1/2 hour sitting in the train station doing nothing. Where was the 6:20 BNSF?

That is the first time a METRA train has been missing but the CTA buses are there at about a 50% rate . I can walk to the train station in a 1/2 hour, but if I can get a bus it only takes 15 minutes (even stopping on every block). But if I knew there would not be a bus for a 1/2 hour I would just F-ing walk.

I get to start working from home on Fridays this week. I won’t miss the 1.5-2 hour commute each way.

How have your experiences been with Chicago CTA & METRA commuting?