Saturday, July 05, 2008

Starbucks must be in trouble

Starbucks wants to get back to its roots to help turn around its ailing fortunes. It brought back the pioneering chief executive Howard Schultz to run the coffee chain day to day, and it has introduced a new blend, Pike Place Roast, that harks back to the location of its first Seattle store.

Yet for all the new marketing efforts, Starbucks’s biggest mistakes and greatest challenges boil down to three words: location, location and location. Starbucks was always focused on acquiring the right locations and the coffee would sell on its own. The company has long been known in the world of commercial real estate for its expertise at selecting prime locations and its fearlessness in establishing almost comic ubiquity in some neighborhoods.

This week, in an announcement that surprised everyone who follows the company, Starbucks said it would shutter 600 “underperforming stores,” and significantly scale back plans to open new outlets. Starbucks misjudged the risks of putting stores close to each other. There are 6 Starbucks locations within 5 minutes of my home. That's just nuts.

Mug Shot of the Week

Meet Henry Earl. You’ve probably heard of him, but as of this writing he has been arrested 987 times, mostly for being drunk in public I believe. According to the website “What’s up with Henry Earl”, he has spent 238.59 days per year in jail over the last 13 years.

One Hit Wonder

Cindi Lauper - Girls Just Wants to Have Fun (1983)

This is an amazing play

Friday, July 04, 2008

Steeplechase Failure

He needs to find a safer event.

Mats Sundin seems to be on his own timetable

Mats Sundin seems to have injected an element of uncertainty in the free agent marketplace. Despite his age, he is the premiere player in the market - except he isn't quite sure if he actually wants to be in the market. At noon on July 1 he became a free agent and within an hour GMs around the league were scrambling to sign free agents. But Mats is on his own schedule. The problem is neither he or anyone else knows how that schedule looks.

So if you are an NHL GM, do you wait him out or just fill up your cap space with other player? Can you afford to let others bid for Jagr, Demitra, etc. and come up with nothing? There are 15 teams with enough cap space to still sign Sundin. Three teams (Los Angeles, Columbus and Atlanta) are well below the minimum cap of $40 million and could use Sundin to get to the cap, but Sundin would likely never play for these teams. There are at least 6 other teams that he would not give serious consideration (Florida, Pheonix, Minnesota, Buffalo, Islanders, and Colorado) and are likely not going to spend to the cap. Until recently there were still 6 contenders - Toronto (yes, there is a chance and cap space), Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh.

For me the Pittsburgh scenario is intriguing. With Hossa signed with Detroit, they have cap space for Sundin. And they would have had difficulty into the future with a long term contract with Hossa. A two year contract works better for the Penguins since he frees up money in two years for their younger stars. If you are looking at teams that Sundin could put over the top, maybe Pittsburgh has even more potential than Montreal, Ottawa or the Rangers. However, with the signing of Fedotenko and Satan by the Penguins and Naslund by the Rangers, these two teams have likely dropped out of the running as well. So if the enigmatic Sundin plans to play in the NHL next season, the marketplace has been widdled down for him.

Hot Dog Eating Champ Retains Title

It wouldn't be the 4th of July without the annual Nathan's Famous International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. It had to go into overtime but Joey Chestnut, the 2007 winner, reclaimed his title. Chestnut tied his archrival Takeru Kobayashi in a 10-minute chow-down (59 hotdogs each) and then beating him in a five-dog eat-off.

Kobayashi had hoped to reclaim the throne after suffering a disappointing loss last year. He had reigned for six years.

A total of 19,000 calories, 1,240 grams of fat and 39,000 milligrams of sodium were consumed by the final two competitors according to an analysis by diet and nutrition Web site CalorieLab. I just hope Nathan's is paying for their medical bills.

Beamsville Bench

We spent a day this week in the Niagara Wine Region to buy some local wines and have dinner. I usually hit the "Beamvillie Bench" which is a strip of land between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment. The Bench provides ideal grape growing conditions because the Escarpment trap warm air coming of the lake which means winter temperatures rarely go below -20C which can kill the vines.

Twenty-five years ago the region was the heart of the Ontario fruit growing industry but grapes have become a better cash crop and the orchards have been replaced by vineyards. The oldest vines are only 35 years. There aren't too many large commercial wineries which means most wines aren't available at the provincial operated liquor stores. The quality of wines has improved considerably over the years and quite a number of small boutique wineries have sprung up. My favourite winery is Fielding Estates which has been operational for about 3 years now. For whites, I love their pinot gris and for reds I go for their baco noir. Both are very reasonable for Ontario prices.

Please do not unwrap candies during the performance

Yesterday I was in Stratford, Ontario for their annual Shakespearean festival. I saw a terrific performance of Romeo and Juliette. I was chuckle when they announce prior to performances for the audience to turn off cellphone and electronic devices and to refrain from unwrapping candies during the performance. It always reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with the Pez dispenser.

Rogers iPhone Plans are insane

Last week Rogers revealed the pricing for their iPhone plans and they ain't cheap, reasonable or affordable. But they will make Ted Rogers some serious dough.

Their bottom end plan is $60 per month for a stingy 150 minutes of phone service (plus unlimited evenings and weekends) and 400 MB of data. The top end is $115 per month for 800 minutes of phone service and 2 GB of data. There are no unlimited options so once you go over your limit you pay for the extra usage. You can't mix and match voice and data options. So if you are a heavy phone user then you have to move up to a higher option or pay for the extra minutes.

Canadians overpay for wireless service so what more can you expect when an overhyped product hits the market.

Happy 4th of July, America!

To many American friends and acquaintances, enjoy Independence Day. I'm sure the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence to protect your right to grill burgers, drink beer and light fireworks every July 4th.

Bozo the Clown is dead

Larry Harmon, the man who turned Bozo the Clown into a household name, passed away today at the age of 83. It's a hard fact to swallow but clowns pass away just like regular people.

I am not sure how those size 28 shoes are going to fit into a standard sized coffin. Could be trouble.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I'm still dumbfounded by the Jeff Finger signing

I'm convinced that Cliff Fletcher made his first mistake since returning as the Leaf's GM when he signed Jeff Finger to an expensive ($14 million), 4-year contract. We all understand that you almost always overpay for free agents unless you are the Detroit Red Wings. But Finger was a career AHLer until about 17 months ago. It appears Fletcher was mostly going by assessments from Ron Wilson and ex-Colorado coach Joel Quennvillie.

So I searched the Internet looking for some info on this great "find" by the Leafs. He has only 94 NHL games under his belt and 252 AHL games. His salary last season was $475,000 so his new contract will by 7 times that.

An Avs blog In The Cheap Seats has this to say about the signing:

First of all, the following has nothing to do with Jeff Finger. I am a fan and will try to watch him the two or three times next year that Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts a Leafs game. I do think the Leafs overpaid for him, but a lot of teams overpaid for far bigger stiffs yesterday.

Jeff Finger is a lot of things. “Shutdown defensemen” is not one of them. I find it amusing that Cliff Fletcher takes fans to task for not having seen Finger, but then seems to imply that he hasn’t seen him either. Instead, he’s relying on the word of a currently-unemployed coach. It’s okay, Cliff. As long as Joel Quenneville says he’s one of the top 5 defensemen, you’ll be fine. If there’s anything Quenneville showed us in Colorado, it’s that he’s a suberb judge of talent. I’m sure the fact that he benched Finger for a while in the playoffs after he misplayed a puck was just because that top 5 D-man needed a little break. And in the Detroit series, when the cameras seemed to catch a red-faced Quenneville screaming “what the fuck are you doing”, what he really was saying was “you’re doing a hell of a job, Brownie”. Maybe I’m just not all that good at reading lips.

Here’s the sentence that really threw me: “[Leafs' coach] Ron Wilson told me he was always on the ice in San Jose games against Joe Thornton”. Which begs the following question: was Ron Wilson watching any of those games?

It’s true that Finger spent some time against Iginla (and had some success, including Iggy into taking some really stupid penalties), but I don’t think he saw a ton of the Sedins. Simply put, the Avalanche generally had other guys - Brett Clark, Scott Hannan and, eventually, Adam Foote - out there against the opponents’ top forwards. That’s not to say he couldn’t have done well in that role, but, again, that’s not really the point.

Toronto fans, my heart goes out to you. You’ve got a GM who apparently is using an ex-coach who can’t judge talent as a scout and you’ve got a coach who seemed to be watching a different game than the one he was coaching. Uh, good luck with that.

From the Denver Post:

I’m just absolutely amazed, though, that the Maple Leafs gave Jeff Finger four year and $14 million. No wonder that team hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1968. Unbelievable.

I liked Fingy but….aren’t you kidding me? This is a guy who was gassed after 20 seconds of a shift and was a healthy scratch for most of the postseason, after he screwed up on what should have been an icing call in Game 3 of the first round.

And lastly from Jibblescribbit:

Jeff Finger The Avs tried hard to re-sign Finger, but after the first day of free agency it's easy to see why they weren't able to. He was due an unexpected pay-day, to the tune of 4-year $3.5M/year. That may be the day's most shocking contract.

Finger's agent played the market perfectly. If you look at Toronto's defense Finger will fit in perfectly because he is exactly what they need: A physical presence who can play pretty solid positional defense and block shots. Finger's agent also deserves commendation for seeking out a team willing to spend money and milking it for all it's worth.

Despite being a great fit for the Leafs, Finger was overpaid (again nice job by Finger's agent). Finger is 28 and only a vet of a season and a half. He's a good defenseman, possibly top 4, but not a top-2 guy. The Leafs gave him top 2-3 money. One regret Finger may ultimately have is that the expectations that come with that hefty contract in Toronto may make life miserable. The media scrutiny surrounding Toronto might not be worth it, and the Leafs management has recently been throwing their players (like Sundin) under the bus in order to cover their incompetence.

How to confuse an idiot

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone mad

I thought Cliff Fletcher had gone totally mad when I read the news and saw he had spent $14 million of the Finger and $12 million on Hagman. I mean that is totally nonsense. No one is going to pay that kind of money for the Finger when people like Avril Lavigne flash it around indiscriminately. And I thought Larry Hagman retired long ago from Dallas. That's a lot of money to spend on an old guy. I thought the Leafs were going younger.

OK, my mistake. It turns out the Leafs signed a guy name Jeff Finger for $14 million. And it turns out the Hagman out of Dallas was Niklas not Larry. So why don't I feel any better?

What Canadians thinks of Iraq and US politicians

According to this Globe & Mail/CTV/Strategic Counsel poll, 82% of Canadians are now opposed to the Iraq war but their three "most admired" politicians are the ones who have supported it.

But as well, Canadians like Barack Obama better than Canadian politicians. John McCain doesn't fair as well though I would personally prefer him to several Canadians on the list/

It's Larry David's Birthday!

I love Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of my favorite shows of all time. Anyway, he turns 61 today, and I thought I'd mention it although today is also Lindsay Lohan's and Ashley Tisdale's birthday. Age before beauty.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canada Day, eh?

Movie Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I did not hear about this movie when it was in the theatre and knew nothing about it when I rented it. In fact I would never have picked it up if one of the kids working at Rogers Video hadn't recommended it. The movie was terrific. But that's not surprising since it was directed by Sidney Lumet. I'm a big Lumet fan and he has been making movies for 50 years and now 83 years old. My favourites are The Pawnbroker, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. He has made a few stinkers but Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is up there with his best.

The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei.

Andy (Hoffman), an overextended broker, lures his younger brother--Hank (Hawke)--into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target. The problem is, the store owners are Andy and Hank's actual mom and pop--and--when the seemingly perfect crime goes awry, the damage lands right at their doorstep. Albert Finney plays the father and he is incredible. Hoffman continues to astonish and Hawke digs deep to create a haunting portrayal of loss. The film is a real family tragedy. A must see!