March 20, 2018

Queer Eye: Why A Show From 2003 Is Getting A Reboot in 2018

The focus of this blog is mainly retro pop culture from the 1970's to the 1980's, but it's worth acknowledging that those are generalities.  Perhaps the most notable is because the start dates and end dates are not always clear-cut, and with television, reruns have made moderately-successful network TV shows far bigger hits in syndication.  For example, the TV sitcom "The Brady Bunch" is generally considered to be a 1970's show (as was "Gilligan's Island").  But both Sherwood Schwartz sitcoms were actually much, much bigger in syndication than they were in their first-runs.  Also, both shows first premiered in the late 1960's, hence both shows could technically be considered sixties pop culture and therefore irrelevant to this blog using the original year of broadcast as a cutoff.

I refuse to do that.

Without getting too tied up in specifics on start and finish dates, although the 1990's and 2000's aren't a central focus for this blog, again, because some pop culture (television, movies, music, etc.) carries over from the 1960's or the 1980's, it occasionally does find a place here, too.  This is one such post.

One early 2000's cable program that is enjoying a renaissance (resurrection or reboot) is one of cable-network Bravo's earlier success stories from 2003.  The show was initially known as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (later renamed simply "Queer Eye").  The premise of the show relied upon the stereotype of gay ("queer") men as experts in matters of fashion, style, personal grooming, interior design, and culture.

It's worth acknowledging that Bravo's own history as a cable network is relevant to this discussion.  Bravo began in 1980, and its original focus was on performing arts, drama, and independent films (indeed, Bravo originally claimed to be "the first television service dedicated to film and the performing arts" and a 1985 profile of Bravo in the New York Times observed that most of its programming at the time consisted of international, classic, and independent films).  The Bravo network was acquired in the early 2000's, and it switched its format from focusing on performing arts, drama, and independent films to being mainly focused on popular culture including reality shows, fashion/makeover shows and celebrities.  In those days, Bravo quite literally was throwing things against the proverbial wall to see what stuck, much as the Fox broadcast TV network had done just a few years earlier.  The main difference is that Bravo was done on cable, rather than on broadcast TV.

The concept for "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was created by the show's executive producers David Collins and Michael Williams along with David Metzler through their company, Scout Productions and, as noted, turned out to be a surprise hit for Bravo.

There were a variety of reasons for its success.

One reason for its success was that "Queer Eye" very much stuck to the 22-minute format (which amounted to a half-hour show with commercials) and ran at many different times throughout the day.  Given that there were no story arcs (also called a narrative arc), which are extended or continuing storylines in episodic storytelling in media such as television, with each episode following a dramatic arc.  On a TV program, for example, a story arc would unfold over a number of different episodes.  Without any arcs, there were no expiration or sequence required for airing, making it well-suited for cable.  Arcs were missing from "Queer Eye", lending it to repeated play throughout the day whenever the network needed half-hour content to run.

The original "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" series starred five openly-gay men from New York who conducted a "make-over" (or "make-better") of another person, usually a hapless straight man at the request of his wife or girlfriend, with the cast helping to revamp wardrobe, redecorating, and offering advice on grooming, lifestyle, and food/wine.

Original Fab Five cast from Bravo's version of "Queer Eye"
The opening sequence introduced the gay "Fab Five", outlining each of their particular "specialties" on Manhattan's "Gay Street": Fashion Savant (Carson Kressley), Food and Wine Connoisseur (Ted Allen), Grooming Guru (Kyan Douglas), Design Doctor (Thom Filicia) and Culture Vulture (Jai Rodriguez).  The five men armed themselves with their tool of choice (including Thom Filicia holding a paintbrush, Ted Allen holding a whisk, Carson Kressley holding a shopping bag, Kyan Douglas holding a blow-dryer, and Jai Rodriguez holding a set of music headphones), all in-line with their particular specialty, then put on their sunglasses before we saw the camera turn the corner of "Gay Street" to enter "Straight St."  The opening sequence closed as the Fab Five "power walked" straight toward the camera.

The show also enabled the newly-nascent Bravo cable network to successfully transition to a completely different focus for content (and audience), and established it as a cable network willing to break away from traditional cable network dogma about what was necessary to succeed, as well as having a willingness to break from traditionally-taboo topics, including featuring genuine gay individuals on television.

The original "Queer Eye" series ran perpetually on Bravo in 2003, as it sought to fill 24-hours with new content that was anything but its original content, which was much more like what ran on PBS in those days, and also had a much more limited audience.

The series also quickly attained pretty good ratings for Bravo, peaking during September of that year with 3.34 million viewers per episode according to Nielsen.  The popularity of the series also established the original Fab Five as media celebrities in their own right, with high-profile appearances at the Emmys and a "make-better" of Jay Leno and his The Tonight Show set in August of that year.  Fab Five members parlayed their celebrity into endorsement deals, perhaps most notably Thom Filicia's becoming the spokesperson for Pier 1 Imports, and Ted Allen would later endorse cooking utensils (skillets, for example) sold at retailers.

The American press also generally complimented the series and the Fab Five.   The gay Out magazine listed the Fab Five in its "Out 100", the "greatest gay success stories" of 2003, while Instinct magazine declared Mr. Kressley one of the "Leading Men" of 2004.  The series also won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2004.

Mr. Kressley knows it's impossible to disentangle his sexuality from "Queer Eye" and he made zero effort to try and do so.  2003 America was not especially kind to the LGBTQ community.  At the time, "Don't ask, don't tell" banned openly gay people from serving openly in the military, and only a few months earlier, 13 U.S. states had homosexual sodomy laws on the books while heterosexual sodomy was legal (the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated those in the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003).  Kressley says that by introducing America to real queer people, it allowed them to get to know members of a demographic long shut out of most other media, and he is of the opinion that was the show's real power.  His co-star Jai Rodriguez agreed, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the number one thing people told him about "Queer Eye" was that the show helped them come out to their families. "The houses and the fashion, that has never been a takeaway," he said. Though "Queer Eye" didn't have an explicit political message, that didn't matter: "In 2003, being out was political."

Mr. Rodriguez also says that "Queer Eye" also made space for friendships between straight and gay men, a bond that at the time "wasn't OK to be formed" because of homophobic fears of romantic attraction.  On the show, gay and straight men could exist, work and laugh together without strings attached.

Since 2003, the Bravo cable network has changed ownership a few times, and is now firmly in the hands of cable television giant Comcast's NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment business.  But Bravo's days in 2003 were more freewheeling, as already noted, marked by its willingness to try and see what drew in viewers.  The "Queer Eye" gamble paid off for Bravo, drawing a diverse audience far beyond a gay-only viewership, to a more mass-market success.  That also made the show relevant for a broader, American culture perspective.  The cast discusses the impact in the video playlist below.

In January 2017, internet streaming service Netflix announced that it was reviving the series with a brand new Fab Five in a season of eight episodes.  It's part of Netflix's desire to move into the unscripted space, including talk-shows hosted by Chelsea Handler, David Letterman, and soon, former President Barack Obama.

NPR's popular radio show "All Things Considered" covered the "Queer Eye" reboot which can be listened to below, or by visiting

The new "Queer Eye" show is based in the southern city of Atlanta rather than New York.  Netflix does not disclose traditional Nielsen ratings performance indicators as broadcast and cable television do, but on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, as of March 2018, the season held an approval rating of 100% based upon 13 reviews, and an average rating of 7.35/10.  The website's critical consensus read, "Queer Eye adapts for a different era without losing its style, charm, or sense of fun, proving that the show's formula remains just as sweetly addictive even after a change in location and a new group of hosts." On Metacritic, the season had a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

The new Fab Five cast on the Netflix version of "Queer Eye"
As noted, the new version of "Queer Eye" does change the locale from New York to Atlanta, and although there is no news (yet) on another season, co-creator and producer Collins said that if Netflix does order more, he hopes to find a new location for the show — and he's thinking specifically of returning to his roots.  He said "I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio, born and raised. I would like to go the tri-state region: Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, because you can base in Cincinnati and go across the bridge to Kentucky and go up the interstate to Indiana. The corn-fed midwestern folk are where I'm from — and I love actually being from Ohio, it's a great place to be from."

Similar to the cast chemistry of the original, the new Fab Five cast for the new version of "Queer Eye" seemingly has pretty good on-screen chemistry, although some important yet relevant changes have been made.

Notably, unlike the show's first iteration, where four of the five stars were white, and all were cisgender.  But it helped open the doors to wider and more diverse queer representation, bringing the Fab Five into millions of homes around the world. That counts for something. Jai Rodriguez, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, notes that his successor in the reboot, Karamo Brown, told him: "One of the biggest things for me watching the show was finally seeing a queer person of color."  Another evolution is that much of this cast comes from lower-income backgrounds, and some even have little mouths (children) to feed.

The new "Fab Five" consists of Bobby Berk (Design Expert), Antoni Porowski (Food Expert), Jonathan Van Ness (Grooming Expert), Tan France (Fashion Expert) and Karamo Brown (Culture Expert).  Of them, Tan is a gay, British-Pakistani Muslim (who happens to be married to an American Mormon cowboy), and Karamo is a gay, African-American man from the South who is also a father of two children, while cast member Bobby has been married to another man for almost fifteen years.  None of that could have been accepted, let alone watched on television, back in 2003.

Updating the original 2003 series to reflect the current social and political climate of today's America was important for Mr. Collins, given how much things have changed. For starters, it feels possible to be a bit more open about the Fab Five's personal lives: "We've evolved in a big way," Collins said. "If you think about the fact that our original Fab Five [didn't use] word 'my husband' or 'my boyfriend' or 'my kids' — America was not ready to handle that. [Now], we get to see that Karamo is a father of two, Tan's a Muslim man married to a Mormon cowboy. And Bobby's been married for almost fifteen years now."

To view a playlist consisting of the original show's intro, the new Fab Five meeting with the original Fab Five, the new show's intro and an interview with the new cast conducted by co-creator and producer David Collins which can be seen below, or by visiting the playlist I created at


February 27, 2018

2018 Sitcom Revival Craze Isn't New But Criticism of Whitewashing Is

On February 22, 2018, Marketplace featured a show segment entitled "Explaining the craze in TV reboots".  Reboot is perhaps an inappropriate term; rather "revival" is likely a more accurate term.  You may listen to that segment HERE, or below.

Also be sure to read the Hollywood Reporter article written by Michael O'Connell who was interviewed in the Marketplace clip.  That story can be viewed at

The Marketplace story discusses a recent (as of early 2018) wave of TV revivals either already on the air, or scheduled to be headed to the airwaves very soon.  For example, think of successful reboots already on the air, including "Fuller House" and "Will & Grace."  Indeed, "Will & Grace" currently ranks as NBC's No. 1 comedy of the season, and it trails only CBS' "Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon" on the list of top comedies across TV.  Others, including "Roseanne" and "Murphy Brown," with the original casts still in place, are scheduled to air soon.

"Fuller House" was a revival of ABC's "Full House" with the original child cast now adults rather than children.  That show picks up with most of the original cast, only it was Netflix that took the risk of producing it rather than network television.  Now entering its fourth season, the numbers were solid enough for the streaming giant to continue.  The original trailer can be seen below, or by visiting

"Will & Grace" Cast Reunion as PSA for 2016 Election

"Will & Grace's" TV revival actually began as kind of a public service announcement (PSA) on YouTube encouraging viewers to vote in the 2016 election.  A mini-episode, if you will, featuring the original cast.  That video remains on YouTube and can still be seen below, or at

That 10-minute PSA clip generated more than 7 million viewers in the first few weeks after it went on YouTube (and subsequently went viral on Facebook and other social platforms), suggesting the U.S.audience was still very much interested in seeing the original characters 11 years after the series finale in 2006.  The cast also seemed ready for a revival, and luckily the original set was still in storage (which was used for the 2016 YouTube #VoteHoney PSA), plus the creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan were also ready to revive the original series.

Eleven years after the finale of the original series required a little bit of creative license to revive the show in a believable manner.  The original series finale ended with Will and Grace partnered — Will with Vince, Grace with Leo — all raising children.  Grace had a daughter named Laila with husband Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) while Will was raising a son, Ben, with spouse Vincent (Bobby Cannavale).  But the revival began by acknowledging both Will's and Grace's separations, and Karen (who is known on the show for having substance abuse issues anyway) having and explaining what was a drug-induced hallucination.  The exact dialogue went as follows:

"I had the craziest dream," Karen says, describing the finale scenes. "Will was living with a swarthy man in uniform and Grace was married to a Jew doctor."

"Well, we were, but we're single now," Will replies.

"What happened to the children that you had that grew up and got married to each other?" Karen then asks, to which Will replies that it "never happened".

"Oh, what a relief," she replied, speaking for fans everywhere. "Nobody wants to see you two raise kids."

The revised "Will & Grace" sitcom was originally ordered by NBC for a limited, 16-episode run, but was subsequently renewed for another, 13-episode season.  NBC was evidently pleased enough with the ratings to renew it for another season.

Roseanne Revival Coming to ABC

The 1990's ABC sitcom Roseanne is another revival that will appear on ABC television starting on March 27, 2018.  Like the others, it will feature virtually all of the original cast.  A trailer is available below, or by visiting

2018 Casts of Several Sitcom Revivals

Mixed Track Record of Success and Failure on Previous Reboots/Revivals

Reboots/revivals of one form or another have enjoyed periods of popularity with networks and producers.  There were numerous reboots/revivals of "The Brady Bunch" for example, including 1981's sitcom "The Brady Brides" which focused on Marsha's and Jan's newly-wed lives.  That was followed by several made-for-TV movies including 1988's "A Very Brady Christmas," 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie" and 1996's "A Very Brady Sequel".  The latter two were movies shown in theaters, and although the characters were identical (played by new actors/actresses and caught in a time-warp), they succeeded because they were intended to be parodies of the original.  Not all revivals are parodies.

In 1980, "The Nude Bomb" (also known as The Return of Maxwell Smart) was a reboot of the late-sixties sitcom created by Mel Brooks "Get Smart" that starred Don Adams, though it was released in theaters initially, and didn't air on TV until 1982.  But another made-for-television revival in 1999 starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 entitled "Get Smart, Again!" was popular enough to prompt a new (but short-lived) TV series, which starred the two original cast members as well as actor Andy Dick.  A 2008 reboot film version starring actor Steve Carrell as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 hit the theaters, and received mixed reviews from film critics, but did reasonably well at the box office.  But the inescapable fact is that many of the popular gadgets featured in the original series no longer seem so revolutionary today.  For example, the shoe-telephone is now an antique relative to smartphones today, and the "cone of silence" seems like its from another era -- which it was.

Similarly, "I Dream of Jeannie... Fifteen Years Later" aired as a made-for-TV movie in 1985 and another named "I Still Dream of Jeannie" ran in 1991.  Actress Barbara Eden starred in both, but Tony Nelson initially played by actor Larry Hagman (who was under contract to star in the prime-time soap "Dallas") was played by different actors.  As a result, neither the "Get Smart" of "I Dream of Jeannie" revivals were huge ratings successes.

Finally, how many revivals of Gilligan's Island can realistically be remembered?  Most of the original cast (excluding actress Tina Louise who played the character/actress Ginger Grant on the original series, but was notably absent from virtually all of the reunions) were in each of the made-for-TV movies including "Rescue from Gilligan's Island", "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island" and even "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" not to mention a couple of animated cartoon versions of the sitcom which was more popular in syndication than it ever was in its initial broadcast run.  Each ended pretty much as they began: rescued only to be lost again on an uncharted island - again.

For television, revivals/reboots usually rely on bringing much of the original audiences, although not always with the same casts.  Some featured original actor/actress cameos (for example, Ann B. Davis, who played housekeeper Alice Nelson in the original sitcom made cameo appearances, as did actress Florence Henderson who played Carol Brady in the originals (both actresses have since passed away), while others only briefly reunite the original casts (or many of them; some had to be replaced since the original talent are deceased).  For example, 2012's first-episode reboot of "Dallas" featured many of the original cast members, even featuring actor Larry Hagman who played J.R. Ewing, although he passed away shortly after the first episode of the reboot aired.

Other prior revivals/reboots have been re-imagined with completely new casts and story lines.  One famous reboot flop was 2007's unsuccessful reboot of "The Bionic Woman" which (briefly) ran on NBC.  That featured actress Michelle Ryan as the main character Jamie Somers.  But instead of Jamie being a schoolteacher and former professional tennis player, the new Jamie was a bartender raising her younger sister on her own, and her bionic powers were not implemented by secretive Government researchers, but her boyfriend.  Only 8 episodes of the reboot aired on TV, as a strike by the Writers Guild of America interrupted production.  The series suffered from poor ratings after an initially-promising premier episode, likely attributed to audience curiosity who ended up very disappointed at how dark the new series was compared to the original.

Actress Lindsay Wagner, the original actress who starred as Jamie Somers in 'The Bionic Woman' back in the 1970's, also played no part in the new, rebooted series.  Ms. Wagner said, "On a technical level, it was very good, but I don't think they understood the show. It was steeped in that old-school thinking. It was like a lot of things today, angry and dark."

More recent revivals (distinct from reboots) are using all or much of the original casts that made the initial shows successful.  Although a complicated rights and remuneration can bedevil many revivals or reboots (such as the soaps noted in a previous post, see for that), when original producers are involved, those issues may be slightly less complicated if the producers are onboard with the idea of reviving the show and they own content rights for the original programs.

The TV revival/reboot craze currently going on is not without criticism, although not because the revivals or the shows aren't any good, but because they claim it is whitewashing.  Though they may make us feel nostalgic, they also come at a cost, because diversity is often nixed in favor of the all-white casts of the past.  From the 1980's to 2017, the number of characters of color with speaking roles has nearly quadrupled, up from about 8% in the 1980's to about 30% today.  According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, non-whites are still under-represented on television, although they are better represented in 2018 than at any point in the past.

Are Current Reboots/Revivals Whitewashing?

On February 12, 2018, the New York City NPR station WNYC and Public Radio International (PRI)'s program "The Takeaway" addressed this not-too-minor issue in an episode entitled "TV Reboots and Revivals Bring Nostalgia — And Whitewashing" and it discussed the implications of that.  That was worth listening to below, or by visiting

Of course, all-white casts have long dominated U.S. popular culture in spite of growing diversity, and recent gains made by non-white players recently won't necessarily erase generations of U.S. pop culture.  As noted by Michael O'Connell in the Marketplace interview above, the current reboot wave has much more to do with the fact that not much else seems to be working right now from an entertainment business perspective, rather than any sort of systematic effort to erase the gains of non-white programming.  Indeed, although white supremacy has gained visibility since the electoral college victory by Donald J. Trump, as trackers of hate groups note, those groups still remain relatively small in spite of their recent increased visibility (see the Anti-Defamation League's write-up HERE and Southern Poverty Law Center's write-up HERE for more background) lately.  The entertainment industry has no motivation other than profit.

Whether the current popularity of reboots and revivals enables all to succeed remains to be seen; so far, the revivals' success features an unconventional family involving three white men as heads of household and another featuring gay white men with female companions.  Soon, another will star a female investigative journalist and news anchor for a fictional TV news magazine and recovered alcoholic who speaks her mind freely, and finally a blue-collar, working class white family living in rural America.  Only the latter series is even remotely consistent with the Alt-Right.

However, if trips down memory lane work out financially, TV history certainly has a lot to mine, although not necessarily with the same casts and producers.  In the end, Hollywood will be watching how financially successful the latest reboots turn out to be.  If history provides any clues, there will likely be a mixture of success and failure, just as did prior periods of sitcom reboots/revivals.

January 10, 2018

Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Tech

Today's post is a bit unusual for several reasons.  First, it centers on a podcast rather than a TV clip, article, movie or music from a genuine media outlet (like a printed newspaper or magazine).  These days, the number of new online newspapers and magazines has exploded, although not all are legitimate businesses, many are simply mining for web clickbait and may ultimately spam people willing to provide their email addresses.  But the evolving media market is a key part of this story.  My main reservation is that the podcast itself comes from a conservative think tank, rather than a genuine media outlet, so I had some reservations because many such organizations are proven to promote known falsehoods.  But upon listening to the discussion in this podcast, I feel pretty comfortable sharing it.

The origins begin with a new book that will be released on August 14, 2018 entitled "Zero Hour for Gen X: How the Last Adult Generation Can Save America from Millennials" by Matthew Hennessey (available for purchase on August 14, 2018 at, see for detail).  There is a podcast at the end of this post which I am sharing because its interesting and not overtly partisan in nature in spite of coming from a conservative think tank.

Note that the book's author, Mr. Hennessey, is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, which has been owned by Australian immigrant Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation since 2007.  The Murdoch purchase ended a century of Bancroft-family ownership at Dow Jones & Co. (the WSJ publisher) and it put the premier U.S. business newspaper directly into Murdoch's very partisan media oversight, although its worth acknowledging that Dow Jones has struggled financially since being acquired by News Corp.  The difficulty has more to do with a rapidly changing media landscape than the political leanings of its primary owner.  The new media landscape includes adept outlets including startups like Business Insider which began in 2009, plus traditional newspapers like the UK's Financial Times which have expanded into the U.S., not to mention Bloomberg's ubiquitous terminals at firms all over Wall Street which have rendered the WSJ far less important (and less relevant) than traditional newspapers are, with their less frequently updated publishing schedules.

Immigrant Rupert Murdoch's Struggle to Keep Up With Tech

Indeed, the global television and entertainment conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family renamed its entertainment assets 21st Century Fox (including its TV network and movie studio among other things) in 2013, but surprisingly, on December 14, 2017, it announced (see for the news) that The Walt Disney Co. had struck a deal valued at $52.4 billion to acquire most of the Hollywood holdings of 21st Century Fox.  All that remains of the original conglomerate he created is what he calls "the new Fox" — essentially, Fox News, Fox Business Network, the national Fox sports networks, his broadcast network and a some local stations.  None of "the new Fox" are considered leaders in breaking important news, and in spite of being quite profitable, they have also won fewer prestigious journalism awards such as Pulitzer's compared to their biggest rivals.  Instead, Murdoch's model has been to use media to advance his particular view of conservatism, often by perpetuating biases of his viewers in order to secure their political votes, rather than legitimate news coverage.

Anyway, in Murdoch's core news business, Rupert Murdoch made a number of atypical missteps since taking control of the WSJ, including a completely incoherent pricing strategy for the newspaper itself (aggressive and unjustified price increases among longtime subscribers, who started dumping the WSJ), a poorly-conceived and poorly-executed Weekend Journal that aimed to compete with the New York Times but which failed by most measures, and perhaps most importantly, rapid turnover of the valuable journalism staff of the WSJ, relying instead upon more freelance journalists without much loyalty to the news outlet they were doing work for, rather than the paid staff who had helped to made it such a great American news outlet to begin with.

About Demographic Groups, And Particularly Generation X

With all that said, this post isn't even a diatribe about about Rupert Murdoch's (un)ethical or even business failings, it's about demographics, specifically Generation X (or Gen X) being squeezed out by the loud and self-absorbed generations before and after it.

In spite of having personal reservations about City Journal, which is published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research  a conservative think-tank based in NYC, not too dissimilar from entities including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute  I would just acknowledge that facts (something that the Heritage Foundation in particular seems to have run away from in recent years) should always be considered non-partisan, especially when it comes to demographic trends which are validated by U.S. Census Bureau data and is mandated to be collected by the U.S. Constitution.

I do not dismiss data simply because the source is from an entity whose political leanings are different from my own, although I will not blindly accept them, either (I do the same for more progressive sources) and all media consumers should do the same.

This particular podcast is one I am willing to share because the content is not especially political or partisan, rather it addressed the author's forthcoming book and some of the broader implications of demographics.  In this podcast, Mr. Hennessy discusses with Aaron Renn the fading of the Baby Boom generation, the rise of supposedly tech-savvy millennials (who did not build any of the tech they will be responsible for maintaining), and what he considers to be the challenge for those in-between, known as Generation X and potential implications in the future.

They discuss the fact that Gen X is sandwiched between two large demographic cohorts, and how those cohorts share some similarities in terms of size and the impact their size has on making them both more self-absorbed simply because of their raw numbers.  While some of Hennessey's assertions are more of a warning for his own generation (Gen X), particularly because younger Millennials seem very impatient in spite of their lacking relevant experience and old Boomers refuse to step down even though they really should because they are now too old to continue (especially in governance), the concern Hennessey seems to suggest is that Millennials don't view the world from the conservative perspective that 1980's sitcom "Family Ties" character Alex P. Keaton (played by actor-turned-star Michael J. Fox) is not viewed favorably by younger voters who now outnumber both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Gen X's Ability to Navigate Around Self-Absorbed Generations

In reality, Gen X is not especially conservative from a political perspective, with about one-third being registered Democrats, one-third being registered Republicans and one-third being independent voters.  Also, Gen X has proven itself to be fairly nimble in standing out rather than being swept away by much larger demographic cohort groups before and after them.  Its not that special, but it was a survival skill necessary for a group used to being overlooked, and that's a skill that neither Boomers nor Millennials posses.  It's also a huge credit to Gen X's ability to stand out in spite of the odds which the author doesn't appear to acknowledge.

While it's most likely that Gen X's tenure in political leadership will be short-lived due largely to Baby Boomer unwillingness to step aside and get out of the way, combined with overly-eager Millennials eager to take center stage, its also appropriate to acknowledge that the transition Generation X leadership might prove to be very, very valuable for the country due to several reasons.

As the generation who literally grew up with the computer, one can convincingly argue (successfully) that Gen Xers are the true "digital natives" (the 1983 movie "War Games" which starred a young Matthew Broderick is perhaps the best example) who also grew up in a time of analog television, radio, movies, media, etc. which means Gen Xers are therefore uniquely able to assess the benefits to each way of doing things, and they might more wisely choose a path that seamlessly blends traditional and new methods of doing things than their younger Millennial or older Boomer counterparts.

Beyond that, there's also a degree of maturity that Gen Xers can bring to policy discussions that has been sorely lacking from current Baby Boomer political leadership, which has become overtly partisan and less willing to compromise, which has always been a cornerstone of successful, good governance.  The selfish "my way or the highway" is a hallmark of Baby Boomer leadership in recent years, and its an utter failure in governance.

Also, as already noted, Gen X is neither conservative, nor liberal.  Overall, they are middle-of-the road, with roughly one-third registered as Democrats, one-third registered as Republicans, and the last third as "independents" who are not registered with either of the two major U.S. political parties.

Baby Boomer Ethos: We Don't Care About Fixing Social Security As Long As We Get Ours

There are a number of big challenges on the horizon that Baby Boomer lawmakers have simply refused to address, perhaps hoping to force their younger counterparts to deal with them instead.  One is the ballooning of people their age who are actually eligible to collect Social Security and Medicare.  Privatization is a favored solution offered by many conservatives, but that's really trying to transfer the problem to another party that can take blame for any Boomer failure, rather than a genuine fix.  It's a myth to say that the system will be bankrupt because that's a falsehood; and the numbers prove it.

Social Security Not (Yet) Bankrupt, But Giveaways to Higher-Income Earners Must Stop 

Social Security taxes are paid for by both employers and employees.  Yet for reasons that are unexplained, there is a mysterious cap to earnings that are taxed, which means that Social Security taxes are only paid until incomes reach $128,700 in 2018.  That means for every penny earned over $128,700, no Social Security taxes are paid into the system.  Admittedly, the maximum benefit someone can collect from the Social Security system is also capped, but its always been a tax, not an indemnity life insurance plan or investment.  I would add that the maximum earnings of $128,700 is not especially high, either.  Perhaps it was unthinkable that anyone could earn $128,700 in 1935 when it began, but the few, periodic increases have not kept pace with changes in the cost of living.  Today, that's not even considered a particularly high income level, especially in certain geographic regions of the country.

So the earnings cap for Social Security taxes can and should be increased to a higher level (or eliminated completely), the exact amount is what lawmakers really SHOULD be discussing, with a debate about what that amount should be and why.  We can also discuss whether there should be a certain level of income and/or assets that merit no longer being eligible to receive Social Security benefits.  Remember, its a program to keep the elderly who can no longer work from going hungry or homeless.  But should Rupert Murdoch be entitled to collect as much in Social Security and Medicare as an older widowed woman from Nebraska of modest means gets?  Does he really need or even deserve it?  After all, hasn't he received enough in tax benefits?

Yet Baby Boomer lawmakers have not had a single serious discussion of this matter even now that 10,000 Baby Boomers a day are going on the proverbial dole.  Yet rather than doing anything about the issue, Baby Boomer lawmakers still in office have kept kicking the proverbial can down the road for future American lawmakers to deal with.  The only issue for them is that the solutions future generations make may not necessarily be good for Baby Boomers.  That means middle-of-the-road solutions are arguably the best outcome for all parties involved, except the very wealthy (and the selfish).

Anyway, have a listen to this podcast below, or by visiting the following two links (one is the conservative think tank's "City Journal" magazine article on the author's forthcoming book, the other is the website for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research's podcast).  Although some of the narrative is speculative or uncertain (such as excessive technology use altering the way Millennials' brains process information), or what the priorities will need to be for the future leaders of America known as the Millennials) but most of the conversation is interesting and relatively on-point.  Certainly, there is a risk of cutting Gen X out of the discussion prematurely, which would be a mistake.  I did like the reference he makes to succession in the British Royal Family.

Whether Mr. Hennessey's prophecy is too worrisome is also a relevant subject to debate.  But I believe its an appropriate conversation for America to have.  Failure of society to do so could mean some very useful solutions are overlooked.

From the "City Journal" Magazine: Zero Hour for Generation X

Podcast: Generation X, Millennials, and Technology

October 2, 2017

The iPhone Didn't Kill the Landline Telephone, the Internet Did

People born after the 1980's really have no idea of just how big or important the company once known as AT&T (an acronym for American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which began as a company back in 1885) truly was.  In fact, the company today known as AT&T was actually one of the original "Baby Bells" (Google that term if unfamiliar) known as Southwestern Bell/SBC, which changed its name to AT&T in 1995, fueled in part by its acquisitions of several (not all) rival baby bells including San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis (a.k.a. Pacific Bell) which served California and Nevada, and Chicago-based Ameritech serving a big portion of the industrial midwest, and Atlanta-based BellSouth which served the southeastern U.S.  It also consolidated ownership of a wireless carrier once known as Cingular and renamed that AT&T.  That means that in spite of having the same corporate name and some of its assets, it's not the same company.

After nearly a century of operating as a "natural" monopoly, Federal antitrust regulators started to investigate the original AT&T's monopolistic, anti-competitive practices starting in 1974, which culminated in the 1982 decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to break the company up (which would happen by 1984), effectively killing the old "Ma Bell" (another term to Google).  That closed a very long and storied chapter in American corporate history.  The original company known as AT&T also gave rise to such important entities as Bell Labs, the historic laboratory which was created by the late Alexander Graham Bell, and the original company was also behind a wide range of revolutionary technologies that are today quite ubiquitous, including radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, the operating system Unix (upon which both the Linux and the Android mobile phone operating systems were built), the C language which currently runs most large Internet servers even today, and the company helped make the internet a reality, with inventions including touch tone dialing, fiber optic cables and more.

Prior to the AT&T Bell System breakup, corded landline handsets were mainly built domestically by a hardware manufacturer owned by AT&T known as Western Electric (part of that would later become a company known as Avaya which today competes in the corporate internet VoIP telephony space), but when that ended, new handset manufacturers emerged, selling cheap, low-quality Asian products (Taiwan was the place of origin for most, as mainland China would not emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub until more than a decade after the historic Richard Nixon visit to China in 1972). What really differentiated Western Electric's phones was their quality construction and the ability to continue working even after extremely tough abuse. All of that came at a very high price, which in 1982 was forced to be itemized as a telephone receiver rental fee.

The AT&T archive has an entertaining, short clip of some vintage, 1970's advertisements for some of Western Electric's "Design Line" telephones.  The basic content of those phones were largely identical (they had the same exact dials/keypads, the same ringers, the same handsets, and the same internal wiring), but these were designer versions of landline phones meant to fit into a more modern household of the era.  The ad appears below, or at

Curiously, on September 11, 2017, some U.S. media outlets were waxing poetically about how the first iPhone was released 10 years ago … gee, a whole decade ago!  I thought to myself: "who cares?" because I've never had an iPhone, and I don't need or want one today, especially since the newest model costs nearly $1,000.  I'll pass; I can do a lot more with that kind of money than buying a little device that's designed to become obsolete as soon as the next model comes out.  My LG Android smartphone isn't the newest, but it's still functional and completely paid for (no contract).  I don't have to worry about losing or breaking it.  Besides, I've always been more of a Droid user than an Apple fan anyway.  But I remember the days when TV news would show lines of kids (today's Millennials) camping in front of Apple Stores waiting to get the latest, overpriced iPhone.  Although some believe otherwise, mobile phones are NOT the pinnacle of modern technology.  My view of Apple is one of resurrection rather than market domination.  I lived in Silicon Valley when former CEO John Sculley ran Apple at a time when the company was still teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

I have a smartphone, and while it is handy to have when I'm on the go, I'm certainly not attached to it.  Some is due to my age; I struggle to see a tiny screen without magnifying glasses and lasik surgery hasn't fixed that (although Google Assistant, or its better known iOS equivalent known as Siri, or at home with talking computer devices like Amazon Alexa/Echo, Google Home and others could mitigate that in the future).  Plenty disagree with me, but it's hardly a universal opinion.

Smartphones are NOT man's greatest invention for several reasons.  For one thing, the core function of making audio phone calls stinks on mobile phones -- I've never had an uninterrupted call on a smartphone.  Smartphones do a lot of cool things, but making telephone calls isn't one of them.  Plus for plenty of people, call mobility was always just a solution in search of a problem to solve.  That's because cordless telephones solved the biggest limitation traditional landlines suffered from decades earlier (having a cord of sufficient length to move around without getting tangled in it).

In fact, reports on the imminent death of the landline telephone are exaggerated.  That said, traditional landlines aren't exactly making a comeback, but as already noted, iPhones (smartphones) are't what killed the landline telephone, the internet is.

According to data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a majority of telephone lines serve medium and large business, institutional, and government customers, NOT individual consumers or households.  Hence, any discussion of traditional landline services is incomplete without an acknowledgement of who actually buys most of the lines: businesses and government, not households or consumers.  And, most businesses generally prefer landlines over wireless services.  Yet too many writers fail to acknowledge this reality when they boldly assert that smartphones have usurped traditional telephony technology.

Any discussion of traditional landlines is incomplete without acknowledgement of who actually buys most of the lines: businesses, not consumers according to FCC data

Articles written by young authors who grew up with mobile phones assert as fact that the latest trend is to ditch landlines for smartphones and that only oldsters still have landline phones.  Such stories always involve very selective disclosure of the facts.  Unfortunately, the Hollywood media machine has started to go with this narrative, too -- even among much older characters.  For example, in the Netflix sitcom Grace & Frankie about several septuagenarians, the character Frankie portrayed by Lily Tomlin has a conversation she doesn't really want to have with her now-gay ex-husband Sol (played by Sam Waterston), and thinking of how slamming the receiver down used to really hurt the other party's ears, she slams her iPhone down like it was an old Western Electric model phone, only to realize that she hasn't even hung up!


Also, in spite of widespread adoption of iPhones and Androids, the devices have not improved the nation's productivity, which has limited smartphones' broader societal impact.  The nation's last major increases in productivity followed the introduction of the personal computer and the widespread adoption of the internet (both trends were driven by businesses), but there has been absolutely no productivity gains following the introduction of the smartphone, which says it all.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the U.S. economy has stagnated in the years (see for more) following widespread adoption of mobile telephones. The mobile phone certainly isn't solely responsible for that, but it hasn't done anything to help matters, so mobile phones don't deserve undue praise, either.

Wireless smartphones were a big disruptor for Apple and Samsung, but not so much for telephone companies.  Based on wireless usage data, we know that 80% of people using mobile phones aren't even talking to anyone on the phone, they're using the mobile computer/internet functions.  But my nearly 50 year-old ears cannot hear the mobile phone ringing even at the loudest volume with a loud and annoying retro-ringtone.  Plus, it's uncomfortable for having a conversation of any duration on a smartphone.  Classic phone designs enabled users to hold the receiver and conduct a conversation without their hands (resting on the shoulder), but it's much tougher to do that with a smartphone.

I'm not naïve, people can be nostalgic for the days of perfect telephone reception on true landlines, but let's not forget, that's only half the story: the other half is that telephone bills were astronomical in those days, especially for long-distance calling. Where I grew up, even a call to a neighboring town was considered a toll call, and a simple conversation to a friend less than 5 miles away could cost $5.00 or more, so it wasn't all wonderful.

Today, it's an economic decision to not get (or switch from) a landline to mobile phone usage exclusively, and it's a rational reason to ditch (or not get) a landline.  The expense is redundant, and if you're not at home anyway, it doesn't serve much purpose.  But contrary to the perspective coming from kids who grew up using smartphones as pre-pubescent kids, mobile phone technology isn't what killed the landline, as I've already noted, the internet did (more specifically, Voice Over Internet Protocol/VoIP technology).  And the migration was driven by businesses who spent a whole lot more money on telephony than the average individual or household ever did.

A handful of better-researched articles [see one at] do acknowledge the impact of voice over internet protocol (also referred to as VoIP) technology, even if their editorial perspective still tries to promote mobile as being a more important driver of the trend away from landlines.

But again, the data shows proof that mobile phone technology is NOT responsible for rendering the landline telephone obsolete, the internet is.  And, as with so many other trends, it began with businesses, not consumers.  For smartphone device-lovers who are convinced that mobile phones are the technology that is replacing landlines, many are surprised and even disappointed to learn that VoIP phone service on the internet is the far bigger technology disruptor than the smartphone is, especially with the business community, although it is impacting consumer phone usage, too.

Data Shows a Less Flattering Picture of Mobile Phone-Only Consumers

It's only been since late 2016 that mobile-only households even outnumbered landlines (that evolution took ±30 years to occur), and only an ever-so-slight majority (one-half of one per cent). While people make the perfectly rational decision that it's a redundant expense to continue paying for both a mobile phone and a landline, the option is most feasible mainly in topographically flat states like Texas, Florida or Indiana. Elsewhere, mobile phone signals may be unreliable so smartphones don't work everywhere, sometimes even in different rooms within the same house.

Rolling hills, lack of cell towers, skyscrapers and many other things interrupt mobile reception in these areas. In more rural parts of the country, you may not even have a cellphone tower around for miles. If you need to make a phone call in those areas, you likely need a landline to do so. Broadband internet usually works in areas when mobile coverage is poor, except in rural, unpopulated areas where broadband may not be available, either.

I live in the biggest city in the country (NYC, with 8.5 million residents), and I don't get a reliable mobile phone signal in my own apartment because the nearest cell tower is blocked by skyscrapers and the others are located in New Jersey or Long Island, so the signal cuts out a lot (luckily, I can rely on VoIP calling at home). Think about that. I live in the biggest metropolis in the country (with more than 8.5 million people living in the same municipality), and I can't even use my mobile phone to make/ receive calls at home. I can only imagine what people who live in flyover country go through!

In spite of boastful claims made by mobile phone carriers and device manufacturers, mobile phones have only recently (and just barely) become a majority of the phones used by consumers in the U.S., and the data reveals more about those who have landlines compared to those who do not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (the CDC's) National Center for Health Statistics gathers data on all kinds of trends about the state of Americans' health.  The in-person survey of 19,956 households is part of the CDC's National Health Interview Survey, still tracks landline use in order to assure it has truly representative samples in its ongoing health studies. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

According to the CDC's most recent survey (see for the results to that survey), 50.8% of homes and apartments had ONLY mobile phone service (which admittedly is up from 41% just 3 years ago) in the latter half of 2016, the first time such households had attained a slight majority in the survey.  The share of homes with both landlines and mobile phones was 39.4% (down from 47.7% 3 years ago), while 6.5% of families have a landline without mobile phone service, and 3.2% have no phone service at home at all.  Of note is that the CDC survey is the only one in the federal government's statistical system that is even tracking this estimate, and it plans to keep doing so.  Naturally, the pro-mobile phone folks were all over these results showing their supposed victory over landlines.  But the reality tells a different story.

Renters and younger adults are more likely to have just a mobile phone, so a predictable skew of young vs. old and non-affluent vs. affluent shows up in the results, but that over-simplifies the findings.  For example, rates of mobile phone-only homes were highest in the South, while homes in the Northeast were the most likely to still maintain landlines.  But this finding goes beyond incomes which are inversely correlated to cutting landlines, as well as the regional skews in income, which is higher in the Northeast compared to the South.  Instead, it speaks to a much more practical reality: it's much more feasible to rely only on mobile services in a region like the South where signals are less likely to be interrupted by great hills and skyscrapers (at least in major population centers) that can block mobile phone signals, as is the case in the Northeast.

Mobile phone-only homes have some other commonalities. "Wireless-only adults are more likely to drink heavily, more likely to smoke and be uninsured," even after factoring for age and income, says Stephen J. Blumberg, the study's co-author (and a landline user himself). "There certainly is something about giving up a landline that appeals to the same people who may engage in risky behavior".  Why that's so will require further research.

The picture of mobile-only users isn't terribly flattering overall.  They drink more heavily, are more likely to be smokers and less likely to have healthcare insurance, and are more heavily concentrated in the South.  People with mobile phones exclusively are more to be living with unrelated roommates, and be renters rather than homeowners, and skew more heavily Hispanic and black rather than white.  Not exactly the image that mobile phone device makers and mobile carriers like to present with ads of attractive, young, smartly-dressed, affluent Millennials featured in their advertising, is it?

As The Atlantic reported (see HERE), the overall picture is that the more stable your living situation, the more likely you are to have a landline.  And, just as richer Americans have the means to adopt new technology like mobile phones early, they also have the means to hang on to the old technology they are already attached to, like landlines, longer: Why choose one when you can have both?

VoIP Phones Go Mainstream

Rather than personally going with a mobile phone only (which I don't care for), I personally compromised with a hybrid-solution that works great: a voice-over-internet-protocol (a VoIP-based) solution which uses my broadband internet to make and receive telephone calls (I pay for broadband anyway rather than sharing it with 20 people who live around me) only it's not linked to my internet provider, so I can readily switch from Verizon Fios to Time Warner/Spectrum cable, to RCN or another competitor).

I also find the internet much better at a computer with a real keyboard and big monitor rather than a tiny, touch-screen on a mobile phone, which as an experience leaves much to be desired.  Cable companies and other internet providers now routinely offer "triple play" packages, although I initially went with Vonage, but I then switched to Ooma, slashing my costs progressively with each change to the point that my "landline" now costs me less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Note that the CDC's definition of a landline actually DOES include for Internet-connected phones — also known as VoIP phones — because the question that's asked in the survey is: "Do you have a telephone in your home that is currently working and is not a cellphone?"

U.S. businesses are dumping (or have already dumped) analog phone systems in favor of cheaper, better-quality, internet-powered phone systems.  The average person working for a company impacted by this has no idea, and that's proof of how ubiquitous internet telephony has become.  Voice over internet protocol-powered telephone systems offer lots of features that the phone company once charged extra for (things like Caller ID and Call Waiting) and most are included in the cost of maintaining an internet-connected office network.  Today, businesses can get a sophisticated phone system with many lines for a cost much lower than old phone systems.  Companies like Vonage [], 8x8 [], Shoretel [] (now Mitel), Jive [], Cisco, and Avaya all sell VoIP-based phone systems (as do others) which have enabled many companies to replace expensive landlines with sophisticated phone systems that offer all of the same benefits for much less money.  Today, a lot more VoIP landlines exist than mobile plans.  But a few companies that began in the business VoIP telephone market have expanded to the consumer market.  More details follow.

VoIP Telephone Companies for Consumers

Because all VoIP phone companies' business model is to maximize self-service, most won't even offer an option to send you a phone bill by mail (although broadband internet and television services are often billed together and typically send monthly bills), and instead require automatic billing to a payment card or direct deduction from a checking account.  Know that credit cards offer you some protections for unwanted services that debit cards and monthly checking account deductions do not offer under Federal law.

Vonage is the best-known player in this arena [] which is considered to be the granddaddy of VoIP services (although they have both business and residential customers), and Vonage is also one of the more expensive VoIP providers for consumer packages.  Right now, Vonage has a one-year introductory price of $9.99/month, followed by $29.99/month after that.  However, Vonage does pay for the VoIP box needed to make your phones work, so that's a decent savings, and 911 services are included in your monthly charge.  But I don't believe that $29.99/month is all that much cheaper than analog landline telephone services are.

BasicTalk [] offers a lower, longer-term cost (the price remains at $9.99/month, compared to Vonage which triples your price after the first year) but with fewer fancy features like call forwarding.  BasicTalk's underlying service is actually provided by Vonage (similar to how both Chevrolet and Cadillac are cars made and sold by General Motors).  Note that it has traditionally charged an account 'activation' fee, which you could say is really the cost to port your phone number over which BasicTalk claims is free.  Most of the other VoIP providers will charge a number porting fee instead, but regardless of what they call the fee, the amount paid out-of-pocket is roughly in-line with their competitors.  Their VoIP box is pretty inexpensive and was sold at Walmart and other retailers, though it may only be carried seasonally.

Ooma Telo [] is my personal favorite VoIP provider.  With Ooma, you pay slightly more for its VoIP box up-front (around $90), but their services are cheaper in the long-run.  Based on my experience, Ooma's Telo service has been great; the only caveat is that the dial tone your hear in the receiver sounds a little different from the one you're probably used to.  They are more of a VoIP box manufacturer, which explains why they sell hardware.  I switched to them after my Vonage introductory pricing expired, and I paid to port my number over, and now my monthly landline (including 911 services) costs less me than a cup of coffee!  They also offer additional premium features like call forwarding and number blocking for a few extra dollars more each month; I skipped those (if you opt for the free trial, they'll continue billing you for it), but the cost wouldn't be very much to upgrade in the future should you want them.

Google Voice [] is another option from technology giant's Google (now Alphabet), which was originally launched nearly a decade ago with some fanfare when Google bought a phone management tech firm then known as GrandCentral which rings both your landline and cellphone simultaneously and also offers text transcription of your voicemail messages.  Its slightly more complex to set up, but if you read on, I promise the info. will be useful.

When people started dumping expensive traditional landlines or not getting them in the first place, Google Voice services became less relevant (although its international calling rates remain among the cheapest anywhere).  If you already have a gmail email account but not a Google Voice account, you can create a Google Voice [] account at no charge in just a minute, and it does not require a contract.  Login to gmail, then in another browser window, type  Today, with Google Voice, you can also create a fee-free (mostly, read on....) landline for your home and/or office.  It's done by purchasing an OBi Talk VoIP device [] sold by Silicon Valley-based OBihai Technologies (it's a small box that plugs into your Internet router) for about $50.  Your analog telephone plugs into the modular phone jack on the OBi Talk device itself.  Note that on January 4, 2018, it was announced that Polycom had acquired Obihai Technologies (see the press release HERE).

After an online account setup with OBihai, the OBi Talk device will then connect to your Google Voice account and act as a portal to your Google Voice services much like Vonage or Ooma do without requiring a landline or cell phone that the service needs to be forwarded to (see a good ComputerWorld article about this HERE for more details).  Once done, your computer does not need to be turned on, and you do not need to be logged into Google for it to work.  As a plus, Google Voice service also offers the ability to block particular phone numbers for free, and free voicemail transcription to text and/or email, and some of the cheapest international calling rates around.  The one downside is that 911 isn't included, so you must pay a third-party to provide that service (Obihai offers that through a partner e911 company which bills separately), and I would caution that this is something you really need, because its too late to get it when your house is on fire, or you need an ambulance, so do not casually dismiss it.

Beware that Google has not committed to provide continued official support to VoIP through OBi Talk service forever.  In 2014, the two companies had a legitimate dispute over the security protocols that almost ended this VoIP service (although it was eventually resolved, see for more on the outcome of that) but first-generation Obihai devices became incompatible with new Google Voice security protocols, so there are no long-term guarantees .  Google has also been known to kill very popular services like Google Reader in the past, so just beware that unlike with Vonage, Basic Talk or Ooma, Google/Alphabet could decide in the future that it no longer wants to be in the telephone business, and the service is not guaranteed just because you bought a VoIP box from OBihai.

In the tech world, there's a saying "if you're not paying for the product, you ARE the product" and in Google's case, there's definitely truth to that, as the company makes millions on advertising.  But most people feel that by allowing Google to mine your email and web browsing activity to allow advertisers the ability to target ads more precisely is a fair exchange for Google's many free services.  But if Google cannot monetize a service, it has historically been willing to pull the plug on it.  Google Reader users learned that only too well in 2013 even though the motto of Google's current corporate code of conduct is: "Don't be evil".

OBihai requires that the OBi Talk device must still be under warranty protection to remain compliant with latest security updates that Google requires (if you buy an extended warranty for the OBihai VoIP box, you get around the issue of what OBihai calls ‘firmware updates’, which happen automatically).  Google Voice/OBi Talk does NOT provide 911 service, so you must use a third-party e911 provider for an extra fee to get that (they have a partner which charges $25/year, or about $2/month), or you can simply add the local phone numbers for fire, police and paramedics to your speed-dial list, but dialing 911 won't work so you'll have to tell the police, firemen, or paramedics where you actually live when you call (they can't tell by your phone number).

As far as emergency e911 services, if you have a newer-model AT&T Trimline [] corded telephone, those phones have buttons for each of these things already built-in (at the top of the handset), you just have to program them into the phone itself.  Or, you can just keep a post-it near the phone with the relevant phone numbers handy if you elect not to pay extra for e911 services.  It's vital to give appropriate consideration to this issue, because you won't have the luxury of waiting if you need an ambulance or your house has been robbed or is on fire!  The FCC has a document on e911 services you can download HERE.

The main benefit is Google Voice/OBihai option gives you a landline where one might not have existed at a very low cost.  Beware of service contracts with VoIP phone companies -- some services have them (like Vonage), others do not.  I also recommend paying for VoIP telephone services with a credit but not a debit card or checking account deduction, as you can dispute charges you have not authorized on a credit card.

Outside of the Google Voice arrangement, Obihai also sells Obi Talk VoIP boxes that do not require a Google gmail account.  These are reliable, and avoid potential Google-mandated firmware updates, but still has the same issue without e911 services being provided.  The service is reliable and inexpensive.

If you still believe that the iPhone killed landline telephone service, you probably also believe fake news found on Facebook and Twitter.  I've offered verifiable facts to prove otherwise.  VoIP is the technology disruptor, not mobile telephony.

July 18, 2017

VW Mines Nostalgia Again With Planned Relaunch of its Bus as an Electric Vehicle

The Volkswagen "Bus" which was known officially known as the VW Type 2, while the original Beetle was known officially as the VW Type 1; and Volkswagen, to its credit, actually embraced the different nicknames for its designs in different markets, even using those nicknames in its advertising was officially launched in 1950.  It, along with models like the low-priced sports-car design known as the Karmann Ghia (which were sold from 1955–1974) were all immensely popular across the U.S. market.  The VW Bus, in particular, arguably peaked in popularity back in the late 1960's; the VW Bus was particularly popular during the counterculture movement of the 1960's and was iconic with many hippies, some of whom actually tried to live in their VW Bus, as well as had sex in, smoked marijuana and took LSD in these vehicles.  The VW Bus had become iconic with the hippie movement, although it continued selling in the U.S. until 1979.

The retro blog ClickAmericana has an entire page dedicated to some of the ads for the VW Bus/VW Type 2 sold in its later years (the 1970's) at which are worth looking at (I've featured one such ad here, and if you click on it, you will then be redirected to ClickAmericana's relevant webpage.

Notwithstanding the VW Bus association with now-elderly hippies, the VW Bus was also part of VW's early success in the North American market.  But following the ending of the Vietnam war, combined with the VW's discontinuation of the Type 1 model with the introduction of newer A1 model meant to replace the Beetle, which featured front-wheel drive and a water-cooled engine, branded as the VW Golf (initially sold under the VW Rabbit nameplate in the U.S.), although the Vanagon was the name given to its newer "bus" model in the U.S.) remained on the market for a few more years, but the era of the VW Bus, at least in the U.S., seemed to be over.

In the decades that followed, Volkswagen as a company had largely fallen off the radar of American car buyers.  The Golf, in spite of being one of the world's best-selling cars, was never a huge seller in the U.S., sales of the Jetta weren't great either, and sales of the Passat were also quite limited.  The Passat was simply too pricey for mass market American consumers, many of whom preferred Hondas/Acuras or Toyotas/Lexus cars.  Plus, many younger generations of Americans had absolutely no relationship with Volkswagen at all.  In fact, younger generations hardly even knew who Volkswagen was as a company.  Making matters even worse for Volkswagen were currency exchange rates (when the Deutsche Mark was still the currency of record for Germany).

Many writers have observed that the Germans at Volkswagen remain eternally frustrated with what they consider to be a peculiarity of the U.S. market, like the importance that U.S. buyers place on seemingly trivial items such as high-fidelity stereo systems and cup holders.  People in Germany believe that a car is for driving, not for concerts or picnics.  But Americans disagree wholeheartedly.  The conditions of American roads are abysmal, and there is no autobahn in the U.S., hence performance isn't always the most important factor considered in buying decisions.  Traffic in the U.S. is horrendous by German standards, and never improves -- and not just in Los Angeles or Houston.  These things make apparent niceties like sound systems important to making a daily commute from hell tolerable, something Germany has little experience with, with well-maintained roads and efficient public transportation.  Volkswagen, in spite of its success in Europe, has arguably struggled in North America, while smaller Swedish rival Volvo even managed to outsell VW in the U.S. at one point, which says a lot about Volkswagen's U.S. struggles.

The VW Beetle spent a few decades on hiatus (at least in the U.S.), before being resurrected in 1998 to positive reviews and sales.  The VW Concept 1, known as the "new Beetle" changed all that.  It was essentially a VW Golf under the hood, but the design was much truer to the original Beetle that many Americans had a fondness of.  Its design originated in California, but the quirky design evoked fond memories from Americans who drove the original VW Type 1 "Beetle", and became Volkswagen's most successful U.S. auto introduction in decades.  Many also hope that a new Karmann Ghia might emerge as well, though a few models do not guarantee ongoing success for an automaker, especially one that aims to remain one of the world's biggest.  The VW Bus, in different iterations, has attempted comebacks, but never seemed to gain the success it had in the 1960's.

Indeed, mass-market European automakers like Volkswagen have struggled in the U.S., although European luxury car makers including Germany's BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, Britain's Jaguar, Italy's Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati have all succeeded because of their premium prices.  However, other mass-market European brands, including Fiat, Renault, Rover and others have had lengthy periods of time where the companies completely exited the U.S. auto market.  Yet Sweden's two automakers Volvo (and to a somewhat lesser degree, Saab) succeeded while bigger rivals from France and Italy failed mainly because they successfully created and then targeted lucrative niche markets -- mainly for safety.  Indeed, Sweden's carmakers have remained in the U.S. since they were first introduced.  It should be noted that in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, most of Volvo cars on the streets are small cars, not the big cars sold by Volvo in North America today.  Indeed, Volvo became one of the most successful, albeit niche, automakers anywhere in the world, keeping many Swedes in auto-making jobs for much longer than conventional wisdom suggested was even possible, let alone likely.

It's worth noting that Sweden's Volvo was part of a larger Swedish company that made a variety of industrial products (including aircraft parts, etc.) and the types of big trucks found transporting goods.  Volvo's automobile unit known as Volvo Cars has been under the ownership of the Zhejiang Geely Holding [Geely Holding] of China since 2010, when it was purchased from Ford Motor Co., but for decades before, Volvo succeeded selling cars despite its small size largely because its most widely-sold (and most expensive) car models' extraordinary safety records, which proved to be a very lucrative, profitable and unique "niche" market that had been largely ignored by other automakers.

With U.S. startups like Tesla aiming to claim the luxury market for electric sports cars, in June 2017, Volvo announced that by 2019, it would only make fully electric or hybrid cars.  To date, Tesla is a luxury car maker, while mass market manufacturers have moved more slowly on electric vehicles.

The U.S. history of automakers outside of Detroit's "Big Three" (GM, Ford and Chrysler, the latter of which has been owned by both Germany's Daimler Benz, and more recently, Italy's Fiat) has seen a history of failure against the big Detroit automakers.  Japanese automakers have proven the exception, rather than the rule.

For example, from 1954-1988, the company formerly known as American Motors Corp. (also known as "AMC", which itself was a descendant of the Nash-Kelvinator Corp. following its merger with Hudson Motor Car Company.  That company's origins were in Wisconsin, not Michigan, although executive talent necessitated relocation to the Great Lakes state.  For a time in the late 1960's to the early 1980's, AMC competed aggressively with GM, Ford and Chrysler, mostly with its rather peculiar car designs, including the Rambler, the Gremlin, the Pacer, the Matador and finally the Eagle.  AMC's best known auto brand endures under Fiat Chrysler, which is Jeep.  When Chrysler acquired AMC in 1988, it marked the end of Detroit's four major automakers.  After that, there were a few startups which did not last, most notably the DeLorean Motor Company (whose auto model DMC-12 was featured memorably in the "Back to the Future" movie trilogy, as the model of car made into a time machine by eccentric scientist Doc Brown, although the company had ceased to exist even before the first movie was made).  Tesla's long-term success remains unproven, although its push into electric sports cars has helped push Volvo and eventually, Volkswagen to pursue wider marketing of electric automobiles in the U.S.

That said, as of 2017, infrastructure limits for electric vehicles in the U.S. remain, including electric car recharging stations that have yet to see widespread adoption across the U.S.  But Volvo is not Volkswagen, and apparently Volkswagen foresees an opportunity to join Volvo in the move towards electric cars.  After all, the Swedes' ongoing success in the U.S. while Germany's auto giant VW has struggled, suggests that the Chinese-owned Nordic automaker might be onto something.  Adding to that, Volvo's new Chinese parents want to advance the technology for electric autos, and realistically, that's probably more likely to come from the West than it is from the Chinese mainland, although relevant components are likely to come from China.

Around the same time as Volvo's announcement, at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, Germany's Volkswagen unveiled an electric microbus concept called the ID Buzz which was clearly meant to be a more modern successor to the old VW Type 2 or Bus as it was more popularly known.  The company also unveiled the new microbus concept at last year's Consumer Electronics Show.  An image of the new microbus, along with another graphic can be seen below.

Irish Times reported: "VW is playing the nostalgia card for all its worth with this concept car. The styling is a very simple update of the original Type 2, right down to the deep "V" shape in the centre of the front, which is now being used to replicate the effect of a smiley face. It couldn’t be more hippy if it tried."

The Street subsequently announced that VW actually plans to re-introduce by the hippy favorite as an all-electric vehicle with a driving range on its battery power of 270 miles which another media outlet reported a planned introduction by 2020.  Previously, the ID Buzz was merely a concept car.  However, the company saw similar success in the U.S. market with the introduction a new Beetle following a similar manner of introduction.  Quirky design style is also key to the company's success.

But while young hippies in the late 1960's fell in love with their VW Buses, it's far less certain that today's American youth will adopt the new VW buses as their transportation method of choice.  As of 2017, the Baby Boomer population has been declining (and will continue to as normal lifespans end), although Gen Xers remember seeing them on the road when they were growing up, but selling to and capturing the Baby Boomer nostalgia market segment no longer ensures success for companies.  And Millennials seem largely indifferent to automobiles, and as a generation, has one of the lowest incidences of driver's licenses of any group observed in decades.  Necessity, of course, may yet push some to get cars eventually.

But a report (an update to an earlier survey from 2014), from researchers at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group, shows that Millennials are far less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving.

While urban dwelling is a major factor behind the decline in car interest among youth, it's also a fact that many Millennials are being priced out of the very cities that they once flocked to en-masse (or aimed to move to, see HERE for more information on that).  Increasingly, more and more hipsters are migrating to nearby suburbs with mass-transit access, typically near suburban commuter rail lines and express buses.  The question is whether that suburban migration will bring more auto-buying, or whether car-sharing services like Zipcar and competitors will effectively address that need?  It's also possible that technology-driven solutions may prove even more compelling than electric cars by themselves (but car sharing of electric vehicles may hold appeal).  Many companies, including Alphabet's Google and countless others are pursuing self-driving cars, and we can realistically expect to see the established automakers pursue this as well, even though much of the early development is coming from Silicon Valley.

Nevertheless, as The Street reported, Volkswagen will indeed pursue its first electric vehicle, which just so happens to be its resurrection of the VW Bus that was so popular among young hippies.

Maybe we'll yet see a new version of the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the future?  Let's hope so!