Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lotus of Siam Manhattan

For those who don't know, Lotus of Siam, an incredible northern Thai restaurant located in a strip mall far from the strip in Las Vegas, is opening a branch in Manhattan on 5th Avenue at 9th Street, in the old Cru location, and everyone's ecstatic. They're not yet open to the public, but have been hosting preview meals for friends.

My understanding is that Lotus of Siam chef/owner Saipin is training a NYC staff, and will remain based in Las Vegas (though she'll return frequently to check up). And I thought I'd share a report I got from a from a keen-palated preview attendee:

"It tastes as if a really great Thai chef gathered some random semi-skilled kitchen workers with little familiarity with Thai food, tutored them for a month, and gave them top-notch ingredients and recipes to work from. And that, in fact, is exactly what this is."

So: "good-not-great", I'd suppose. They
will surely improve, but could scarcely ever hope to resemble the original location (whose kitchen has enjoyed years of Saipin's daily presence). And it may well wind up being a welcome addition to the local dining scene.

But strategy suggestion: don't run in opening week. It sounds like the kitchen needs some serious time to calibrate. And pay scant heed to early reviews, which will flood in during this awkward time (on the other hand, they keep delaying the opening date, so the owners seem mindful of the need to make a good first impression).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

DiFara Pizzeria Omnimedia

Check out "The Best Thing I Ever Done", a short film about DiFara Pizza (thanks to Wayne Frost for the tip!).

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I was reading today about how unmotivated voters are expected to stay home in droves this election. And I wagged my head in stern disapproval. But then I realized that I, myself, am unregistered. I'm one of those people! How embarrassing!!

If there's one dictum to live by, it's this: don't act like the sort of person you hate!

If you acknowledge that democracies require participation, and if you disapprove of voter apathy, then you must either register to vote ASAP, or else accept that you're a big fat hypocrite!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Death of a Fulton Fish Market Fixture

Our modern day saints aren't the shiny faced smoothies delivering inspirational lectures on TV. And they're not above sin; rather, they transmogrify it.

Have a look at Dan Barry's beautifully written article,
"Death of a Fulton Fish Market Fixture".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Different Perspective on "The Social Network"

I went to see "The Social Network" expecting a hatchet job (if you haven't seen it yet, be warned that the following is mildly spoiler-ish, though, really, the history of Facebook is public knowledge). The film was based on an unauthorized and admittedly semi-fictionalized tale told in the book "The Accidental Billionaires", which takes the side of (and was fed juicy information by) aggrieved ex-partner Eduardo Saverin.

And, indeed, the
NY Times says Mark Zuckerberg "is presented as an arrogant, aloof, socially inept computer nerd, who eventually tricks Mr. Saverin into signing documents that diminish his stake in Facebook to near-nothingness".

I suppose that's how people who have never run businesses see things. I, however, had a very different perspective, perhaps because of my experience running a web site that also grew from humble beginnings to...well, to a miniscule fraction of Facebook's scale and success (on the other hand, Chowhound aimed for a niche audience, whereas Facebook strove to hook up the whole world).

Even as portrayed in this supposedly slanted film, the Saverin character is obviously the wrong guy to be CFO of that operation. Premature greed plus twitchy anxiety over his investment drive him to a determination to plaster ads on the nascent site, ignoring Zuckerberg's keen insight that all Facebook had going for it was "coolness", and that ads would have detracted from that. Sure, Facebook has ads now, but it's out of growth phase. If, back when they were confined to students of a few universities, Facebook had been festooned with ads, it never would have exploded. Conventional-minded and small-visioned, Saverin was a drag with his insistence on monetizing the operation even if the monetization might kill it.

It's a huge drag to run a business with a partner who lacks vision. And it was miracle enough that college kid Zuckerberg turned out to have the maturity and vision to take Facebook all the way to world scale. He was an aberration, and it's quite unsurprising his college kid partner failed to buck those same long odds.

So Zuckerberg found a way to get rid of him. It was the right thing to do for Facebook (removing a principal who was out of his league and dragging down a radical, fast-scaling online phenom), and it was even the right thing to do for Saverin. Because if Saverin had remained, retarding growth, Facebook would never have exploded, making Saverin a billionaire. And it did, in the end, make Saverin a billionaire.

In fact, the very means of Saverin's removal (he foolishly signed documents relevant to his future role in the company without consulting his own lawyer, a move which even he conceded was beyond stupid ) demonstrates that this kid was severely unequipped to serve as CFO of a burgeoning grown-up company...and that his further presence would have exerted a debilitating drag on the company's growth.

But here's where the public misses the obvious. Can you really imagine that when Zuckerberg forced out Saverin, he (and his team of big league corporate lawyers and advisors) didn't anticipate that the guy would sue, and wind up with tons of money? Does anyone really think this outcome was unexpected, or aggressively fought? No, Zuckerberg found a way to ditch the guy quick so the business could achieve the growth he knew was possible, allowing Severin to reap billions in the subsequent law suit. It was a conscious decision, and a smart one. It was exactly, perfectly right. Knock him out of a role he shouldn't be in, and let him sue to gain what's rightly his. Win-win.

So where's the problem with this story? Should Zuckerberg have kept his old buddy around out of sentimentality at the expense of the phenomenal outcome he saw possible for them both? (Note: I probably would have done this, myself - but I'd have been dead wrong) Is it a bad outcome that Saverin got rich in spite of having the business skills of a callow undergraduate? Or that Zuckerberg saved Facebook from a horrendously underqualified CFO, going on to tremendous success able to pay said CFO ten thousand times more money, standing on the sidelines, than he was qualified to ever earn via his own skill set?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Follow-Up Stock Tips

If you missed out on SIGA (or you bought some and are celebrating), you might want some other suggestions.

First: SIGA. Yeah, still. If you'll do the math, SIGA should be in the high teens or twenties as a result of this contract. So, clearly, the market is skittish about the protest lodged by a SIGA competitor. I won't delve into details, but I see little risk to the contract's award. And, per my last entry, the future is very bright; SIGA will be worth way more than its present $12. So SIGA remains my top buy (though I'm sorry if you didn't catch it at $2.92!).

I bought Apple at $115, and it went over $300 today. And while that price bakes in an obscene level of positive expectation, I think Apple will beat it. The iPad will be absolutely humungous, especially after they come out with a lighter one. Jobs correctly guessed the future of computing, and it will be a light, easy-to-use, shiny information appliance like this rather than beige hardware with a learning curve. And I called this way back in January when Apple's stock was under $200.

Finally, Eric Rose, CEO of SIGA, is brilliant at both science and business. Invest strongly in all companies whose boards he serves on. I've already made a huge profit on KERX.

SIGA Finally Hits

I first touted SIGA (a drug development company working in biodefense) in 2008 when its stock price was $2.92, and I've been keeping you appraised as they've awaited a government contract to stockpile their smallpox drug (effective against all poxes, including weaponized smallpox and animal poxes, with the safety profile of Tylenol).

Well, the contract's in (though it's being protested, weakly, by a competitor), and the stock price is hovering around $11-12. Congrats to all who bought. But don't even think of selling!

FDA approval is due sometime in the next year or so [update: nope, that's slipped back to 2012, but it's not a huge deal, because this isn't a drug your doctor will prescribe you,it's something that will be stockpiled for first
responders to use in case of catastrophe
] , and that will allow the World Health Organization to purchase ST-246. Other countries needn't wait. Israel has signalled its intention to stockpile it, the European Union is looking at it, and it's likely that Canada, India, and other countries fearing bioterror will want to stockpile it, as well. And stockpiles must be replaced every 3 years, as that's the drug's shelf life. Furthermore, the government bought ST-246 at a favorable price, $300/dose, since they financed the drug's development. So there will be higher profits on those other sales (it costs virtually nothing to produce).

ST-246 is highly effective against vaccine-related complications, and a new generation of advanced vaccines for various maladies is currently under development (sorry, Jenny McCarthy) and in need of a hedge against such complications. There is also a potential connection to HIV treatment.

News junkies will know that we face
a potential monkeypox pandemic, and ST-246 is safe and effective against monkeypox ("Tecovirimat, also known as ST-246, has shown efficacy in all small animal and nonhuman primate prophylaxis and therapeutic efficacy models of poxvirus-induced disease tested to date.", according to a scientific paper by SIGA's chief scientist). As with animal flu, the monkeypox virus must jump from animal-to-human, and then from-human-to-human, before we need to really worry, but we seem to be there now. From a recent issue of Scientific American: "The rise that we're finding is way above and beyond what anyone expected to see...[I]t's not linear, it's exponential. That suggests that secondary (person-to-person) transmission is going on."

You can read my first posting (same link as above) for information on SIGA's exciting drug pipeline (while you're at it, consider reading all the rest, in reverse chronological order). There have been no reports on this pipeline for a year. We may hear a humdinger - my first use of that word in print, by the way - of an update from SIGA now that they have everyone's attention.

Once many of those impending deals are sucked up and the pipeline's been advanced a bit, SIGA will likely be bought by a big pharma company for mid to high $30s. So it's still a good buy!

Finally, this contract is worth much more than $7 in additional stock value. "Efficient markets" be damned, it may take a while for the stock to reflect the full value of a $500M - $2.8B contract on this tiny company's 46M outstanding shares.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Authority Vs. Creativity

All my best learning has stemmed from sharply negative experiences. But isn't that always how it works? People whose autos never break down never learn about cars. Those who've spent hours troubleshooting computer disasters and nursing broken hearts come away knowing far more about computers and love than those who've sailed right through.

But the apparently smooth sailors hit snags of their own. We all do. Whoever you are, life is nonstop friction, offering a
choice between relaxing into it all, come what may, or recoiling in anxiety. Whichever you choose, friction will surely find you, so you may as well accept and learn!

This week I had illuminated, as if with a precise laser beam, the crux of much of the friction I've encountered in this world. I can't say it was pleasant, but the resultant "Eureka" will help me transcend this particular recurring source of pain and frustration in the second half of my life.

I've been playing with a few bluegrass string bands. Now, a bluegrass band needs a trombone like a fish needs a waffle maker. But I don't really consider myself a trombonist. Instead, I'm a wannabe singer who can only perform by holding an unwieldy metal contraption up to my face. That's what a trombone is to me: a prosthetic. I don't walk into musical situations thinking like a trombonist; I just aim to boost and elevate the musicians around me with my mechanically-assisted singing. It's spontaneous and unambitious, but sometimes results can be magical.

It's been working well. I play softly and sparingly, with an almost prayerful attitude, calling no attention to myself, but letting flow whatever seems to be called for. Fresh new strategies bubble up for fitting my odd cog into bluegrass music via inventive new angles. I paint with a note or two here or there, or I wield pregnant silence. And when I solo, it's brief and there's no intent to impress. It all feels infinitely more musical than in the old days, when I had a big stake in how people perceived me. And I come and go as I please, because I'm just sitting in. I pack up when I get tired of hearing a trombone - which is thankfully always before the musicians or audiences grow tired of it. The players are always glad to see me (more so, in fact, than back in the days when I strived for esteem).

But as I've said a number of times here on this Slog, stuff has a way of sneaking up on you. That damned Snake can entice even the most ingenuous Eve.

A few weeks ago, a bluegrass musician who'd heard me in some gin mill invited me to play a big concert with his group. The concert's guest artist would be a musical hero of mine, and the fellow told me he'd be honored to have me. I got excited.

At this point, since you're probably not a musician, I'll switch to metaphor.

Let's say one night you've blundered into an all-Korean party with no English spoken. Mustering creativity and charisma, you manage to fit in beautifully. You make friends, have a great time, and, most surprising of all, you find you've made the party better; everyone leaves exuberant. Let's say you then start getting invited to other Korean parties, where you somehow repeat these results. You're delighted and amused by your unexpected role as a sought-after Korean partygoer.

Then let's say someone offers to pay you to attend a really important Korean party. And he calls a few days beforehand to say:

"Some of the party-goers are uneasy about having a non-Korean there. I'm sure you'll be just great, but would you mind if we talked through things, so I can convince them to give this a try? Ok, first, don't talk too much for the first half of the night. We want to introduce you to the party gradually. And don't mention Korean food or sports or music. Maybe could you recite some limericks when I point at you? And remember how at last week's party you threw the grapes up in the air and they landed in your mouth? That was great, please do that when my wife comes in. And go sit in the kitchen between ten and eleven, because we want to discuss purely Korean matters at that point. And, just in general, speak softly, because no one likes a loud American. And don't stand near the window. And don't talk when Mr. Kim talks. And we're so happy you're coming; we can't wait! It's going to be awesome!!!"

And then at the rehearsal for the party (yes, I realize the metaphor's breaking down), let's say he keeps signalling "Not now!" each time you started to interact, and "Ok, GO!" each time your instincts told you to hold back.

Let me ask you: would you be able to create any magic at all?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cool National Geographic Shorts on YouTube

Uninterested in the usual inane home video on YouTube? Check out National Geographic's YouTube channel. These well-produced little films are mostly under three minutes; perfect for quick infotainment fixes, yet far more satisfying than the latest viral video junk food. Click "top rated" or "most viewed" for better triage.

I enjoyed Rebuilding Stonehenge, Fish With Transparent Head, and Exorcism in India,

At that same link you can also subscribe to be alerted of new video uploads.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sour Milk Countermeasure

Just a throwaway little tip, but it may come in handy one day:

If you depend on milk (e.g. for coffee, cereal, or cooking), you will, at some point, be left stranded by a souring stash. So...I keep a few little aseptic boxes of low-fat organic milk in the back of my fridge. They last for months, and will get you through a pinch.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier Play Marbles

Remember the show "Wonderama"? It was a long-running kid's program in New York, and the show's Wikipedia entry notes that:
In a publicity build-up to their rematch bout, Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier both appeared on the show together in January 1974 and competed against one another in a game of marbles.
You can actually watch a clip of this surreal bit of history here.

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