The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fun times with non-profit contracts

Local restaurant review show "Check Please," which was to begin its 20th season on the local public-television station WTTW, will instead end its run after the station proposed contract terms that the producers couldn't accept:

I'd like to say our upcoming 20th milestone season will be our best one ever!  However, WTTW/11 and I want to go in different directions and pursue other opportunities, so it's just not to be.

Crain's has more:

The show's last contract ended in the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic forced restaurants to close. Manilow said they started new discussions about a month ago and in the last week, WTTW presented him with a new contract and he said it was so different, it didn't make sense for him to continue the relationship.

"We talked about some different ideas they had. They were so drastically different that I'm not going to get into the details," Manilow said. "There wasn't much room for negotiation. We tried but it didn't work out. If they had done what we've done the last 19 years, we'd be in production now. That's just a fact and that's their prerogative. From a fundamental standpoint, every other renewal was kind of pro forma and they'd renew."

My guess, informed by years of dealing with non-profit arts organizations, is that WTTW misunderstood how pricing and microeconomics work.

Arts organizations have a tough time making money, because (let's face it) most people don't value them highly. So there's a large supply of arts organizations and small demand. If you graph supply and demand, where they meet is the equilibrium price (where curve D1 and S meet):

If you charge more than P1, you will sell less, and probably make less money. In order to sell more (move from Q1 to Q2), demand has to move first (D1 to D2).

Unfortunately, many arts organizations try to balance their budgets by increasing prices, believing demand to be constant. Someone whips out Excel and plugs in some numbers, and voilà! Instant revenue!

But that doesn't work, and it's easy to see why.

We sell tickets to Händel's Messiah for $35 to $70, depending on the section. We have a good idea how many we sell every year in each section, so we have some confidence in our budgeting. But imagine we found out that, say, a deadly disease would require us to have an empty seat between each person in the audience, meaning we could only sell half the number of seats.

So we plug everything into Excel and figure that we can sell half as many seats for twice as much money. Cool!

Except no one wants to pay $140 for a seat at our performance. They might pay $75, but at that price would many other people would shift from the orchestra level to the balcony, so we'd wind up with even less money.

I imagine that WTTW looked at their budget and figured that they needed to pay "Check, Please!" a lot less in order to keep their books in balance. And the producers of "Check, Please!" said no, we're not adjusting our prices to help you balance your books; we can take our product elsewhere.

We'll see. It's sad when this sort of thing happens, and I wish more arts organizations would recognize that they need people with business skills in management. I expect "Check, Please!" will do just fine online.

Lunchtime roundup

Stories from the usual suspects:

Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.

Consumers really have gotten worse to service workers

Amanda Mull examines why.

Because consumer identities are constructed by external forces, [historian Susan Strasser, the author of Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market] said, they are uniquely vulnerable, and the people who hold them are uniquely insecure. If your self-perception is predicated on how you spend your money, then you have to keep spending it, especially if your overall class status has become precarious, as it has for millions of middle-class people in the past few decades. At some point, one of those transactions will be acutely unsatisfying. Those instances, instead of being minor and routine inconveniences, destabilize something inside people, Strasser told me. Although Americans at pretty much every income level have now been socialized into this behavior by the pervasiveness of consumer life, its breakdown can be a reminder of the psychological trap of middle-classness, the one that service-worker deference to consumers allows people to forget temporarily: You know, deep down, that you’re not as rich or as powerful as you’ve been made to feel by the people who want something from you. Your station in life is much more similar to that of the cashier or the receptionist than to the person who signs their paychecks.

There are endless ways to make sense of the situation America is in now, in which new horror stories from retail hell make national news every few days, and stores and restaurants all over the country complain that no one wants to work for them. Perhaps the most obvious one is simply how damaging this whole arrangement is for service workers. Although underpaid, poorly treated service workers certainly exist around the world, American expectations on their behavior are particularly extreme and widespread, according to Nancy Wong, a consumer psychologist and the chair of the consumer-science department at the University of Wisconsin. “Business is at fault here,” Wong told me. “This whole industry has profited from exploitation of a class of workers that clearly should not be sustainable.”

When I was a kid, I read Robert Heinlein's novel Friday, which contained this observation: “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named...but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

Relaxing weekend

Cassie and I headed up to Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wis., yesterday to hang out with family. Today, other than a trip to the grocery and adjacent pet store where Cassie picked out an "indestructible" toy that now lies in tatters on the couch, we've had a pretty relaxing Sunday. I thought I'd take a break from Hard Times to queue up some stuff to read tomorrow at lunch:

I will now return to Dickens, because it's funny and sad.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

Wednesday evening roundup

Happy Wednesday! Here's what I'm reading before my 8pm meeting, now that my 6:30pm meeting just ended:

And finally, the New Yorker's Tom Papa introduces you to "asshole cat behaviors."

The future of working from home

The Atlantic's Amanda Mull believes that workers will benefit most from choosing when to work from home or in the office themselves, rather than through corporate policies:

[R]umors of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as have those of its triumphal return. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings. Employers are trying to figure out what they can get away with down the line, and workers are trying to figure out what they can demand.

What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert. But I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.

In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. (Only 19 percent said that full-time remote work was their ideal setup.) Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.

I'm with Mull. As soon as my company allowed it (June 22nd), I went back to the office on Mondays and Fridays, leaving my work laptop at work and my home office desk clear over the weekends. This gave me 5 days a week with Parker and did not seem to cause any loss of productivity. I only stopped after November 2nd in order to spend Parker's last few weeks with him full-time. The office closed again the day before he died, so I stayed home until this past March 1st.

This flexibility, along with not having my work computer on my desk from Thursday night until Tuesday morning, seems like the best balance for me. Cassie only goes to daycare twice a week (it's about $45 a day), I eat most of my lunches at home but still get the occasional 65 Chinese BBQ pork on rice downtown, and miraculously my productivity remains about the same.

In fact, my office's closings and reopenings have provided an ongoing natural experiment in productivity. So far, my productivity cycles  about 28-35 days between peaks and appears to have no connection to where I'm working.

Back to Mull's point, though: giving workers control over when they stay home or go in is really the point. And as we won't be having meetings with 15 people crammed into a conference room for a very long time, it really does seem like the best option for everyone.

Flyover territory

The four-year, $40m Navy Pier flyover finally opened this week after 7 years and $64m:

The $64 million flyover, started in 2014, was originally planned for a ribbon-cutting in 2018 but it was repeatedly delayed. The 1,750-foot-long, 16-foot-wide steel and concrete flyover goes from Ohio Street Beach to the south side of the Chicago River.

City officials have blamed prior delays both on issues with the Lake Shore Drive bridge and a delay in getting funding from the state during the budget crisis under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

With the substantial completion of the Flyover, built to keep pedestrians and bicyclists from being in conflict with auto traffic, the Lakefront Trail now runs, uninterrupted, from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, according to the city.

Block Club Chicago has photos.

The biggest budget increase came when engineers discovered that the original plan to tunnel through the southeast Lake Shore Drive bridge tower would have cut a load-bearing column. But like so much in Chicago, the biggest delay came from our incompetent and ideologically-blinkered former governor refusing to fund the state government for two years.

But hey, it's open now, so bikes and runners no longer take their lives into their hands crossing the off-ramp from Lake Shore Drive to Grand Avenue.

Beyond farcical in Arizona

A supporter of the XPOTUS has organized, with the help of the Arizona State Senate, a private hand-recount of Maricopa County's ballots. Apparently they're looking for bamboo fibers? Yeah, it's just as crazy as it sounds:

On the floor of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once dunked basketballs and Hulk Hogan wrestled King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arrayed in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the middle.

Seated at the tables are several dozen people, mostly Republicans, who spend hours watching ballots spin by, photographing them or inspecting them closely. They are counting them and checking to see if there is any sign they were flown in surreptitiously from South Korea. A few weeks ago they were holding them up to ultraviolet lights, looking for a watermark rumored to be a sign of fraud.

The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand recount and certified by Gov. Doug Ducey. Two extra audits confirmed no issues. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.

Still, counters are being paid $15 an hour to scrutinize each ballot, examining folds and taking close-up photos looking for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a plane from South Korea delivered counterfeit ballots to the Phoenix airport shortly after the election.

When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check for watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers has it that Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.

Meanwhile, our named adversary, Russia, continues to disrupt our economy with impunity because people don't know how to do security.

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.