Where is Martin Shkreli’s Wu Tang Clan Album?

once upon a time in shaolinWhere is Once Upon a Time in Shaolin?

That is the name of an album by the Wu Tang Clan.  Recorded over a period of six years, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was pressed as a double compact disc in a limited edition of one copy.

In 2015, it was sold at auction, and the high bidder paid some $2 million for it.  That high bidder was Martin Shkreli.  He was the head of a pharmaceutical company that became famous for increasing the price of a particular drug from $13.50 per dose to $750 per dose.

That did not go over well with the public, nor with the people who require that medication to live.

In one of those “karma is going to come back to get you” moments, Martin Shkreli now finds himself awaiting sentencing after being convicted a few months ago of securities fraud.  He’s likely to be spending the next few years working on behalf of the state while wearing stripes or perhaps an orange jumpsuit.

The Feds are interested in having Shkreli hand over some $7 million in assets in order to cover court-assigned fines and fees.  Shkreli owns a number of rare items, including a World War II codebreaking “enigma” machine and a Picasso painting.

He also owns the only copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.  The government wants it.

Ordinarily, that would be a simple task.  He has it.  They get it.  They sell it or whatever.  The end.

The problem, at least from the perspective of an observer, is that he might not actually have it.  Last September, Shkreli listed the album for sale on eBay.  The album drew some 343 bids, and the final price was $1,025,100.

wu tang clan albumOf course, there’s no way of knowing if that transaction actually took place.  Items like this pop up from time to time, and plenty of bogus bidders usually jump into the auction just to make trouble.

Sometimes, sellers attempt to verify who the bidders are before they’ll accept their bids, but people who don’t regularly sell on eBay may not know to do this.  At the end of the day, the final bid may, or may not have been legitimate, and the buyer may or may not have actually paid Shkreli for it.

So he might have the money.  He might still have the compact discs.  Or not.

According to the original terms of sale, the buyer (Shkreli) is forbidden from commercially releasing the material on the discs before the year 2103, so it’s unlikely that anyone will get to hear it anytime soon.

In the meantime, Shkreli is behind bars, waiting to see how much more time he’ll have to spend there.  One cannot help but wonder if he has an mp3 player with him, and whether or not Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is on his playlist.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.  In the meantime, you might want to keep an eye on eBay.  It may yet turn up again, especially if the previous sale fell through.  The government itself may sell the item off.

Is Blockchain the Future of Music Sales?

blockchain technologyThe music industry has had trouble adapting to the new 21st century model of downloading music, rather than selling it on physical media, as had been done for a century.

That’s not to say that people do not buy records or compact discs; they do.  But most people who buy music now either buy downloadable files or they subscribe to streaming services, such as Spotify of Pandora.

Artists are not too happy with the current arrangement, as they earn far less in royalties via streaming services than they do via sales of physical media.

There are several different plans at work to correct this, and they make use of so-called “blockchain” technology to facilitate the sales of downloadable music.  Blockchain technology is the one that makes Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies work, and people in the music industry believe that if you can tie the sale of a particular song or album to a transaction via cryptocurrency, then several things can happen.

Perhaps the artists would get paid more.  By only agreeing to sell their music via a technology that required payment and ensured that they’d get paid, artists might have a more reliable source of income.

Cryptography could attach a file to the buyer, making it impossible for them to share it with anyone else.

It’s possible that this technology could work, but part of the problem with cryptocurrency in general is that there are so many of them.  The success of Bitcoin spawned a number of different but similar currencies, and they’re all fighting for second place in a market that will eventually allow for relatively little competition.

blockchain technologyOthers think the entire thing is a waste of time and there may be some merit to that argument, as well.  Consumers aren’t interested in anything that makes acquiring music difficult.  Over the years, music technology has grown and developed, and one common thread among all platforms is that over time, music became easier to access and acquire.

You used to have to go to the store, buy a reel to reel tape, bring it home, thread it through your player and play the tape, only to have to rewind it when you were done.  No you just turn on your phone, call up Spotify and listen to music.

If it’s that easy now, why are people going to want to be bothered in acquiring some kind of cryptocurrency to use to buy their music?  What if the industry can’t agree on a standard?  Then what?

This likely won’t help prevent piracy, either.  Remember -people want simplicity.  If you can play the music, whether its encrypted or not, then it can be recorded, by microphones, if necessary.  Rest assured, if anything happens in the industry to make it harder for people to buy or listen to music, then other people will find ways to work around that technology.

That means, at the end of the day, that more people will likely be stealing their music to get it for free, rather than to pay for it.


Pop Culture in an Electrical Outlet

Electrical outlets are boring.  There’s no getting around that.  We need them, of course, because not everything we own can be plugged into a USB port.  There are some things that just have to be plugged into the wall.

That’s fine, but the standard-issue electrical outlets that we have in the United States are not very interesting.  They’re usually white or off-white, and they’re full of holes, and they take up space and ruin whatever sense of style you had going on with your wall.

There’s that big plastic plate, a screw in the center, and a bunch of holes.  Not very appealing.

Sure, you can paint your sockets or buy colored wall plates, but at the end of the day, you’re still just looking at the same old things.

That’s what makes it interesting that Zachary Dodds, a designer living in the Pacific Northwest, has come up with a great way to make your electrical outlets look better.  In fact, he’s done better than that.  He’s made electrical outlets downright cool.

Dodds has created an Etsy page called the ElectricStickerCo, and there he sells stickers that you can apply to your electrical outlets to make them far more interesting.

The stickers are all designed to take advantage of the three holes that make up a standard electrical socket, and to turn them into faces.  Not just any faces, mind you – faces of interesting, fascinating and clever pop culture references.

Instead of just plugging into a wall outlet, you can now plug into Breaking Bads’s Walter White, complete with hat.  Or Batman.  Or Wonder Woman.

So far, Dodds has introduced roughly a dozen of these stickers, which sell for roughly $3.50-$6.00 at the craft site.  There were more, but thanks to a bit of press from sites like this one, he’s sold out of a number of his creations already.  The original (and now sold out) stickers included Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo, David Bowie, and Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

While many of the designs are of pop culture faves, there are also a few basic ones, such as a lumberjack, a deer and a cat.  Dodds has an apology on the Website and says that he’s working to replenish stocks as soon as he can manage it.

While the stickers are definitely cool, be aware that you probably shouldn’t install them anywhere that children might be around.  The last thing you want is to have a child get hurt because they’re trying to poke Han Solo in the eye.

You should also be careful when installing them, as there is house current running through those sockets, and anytime you’re putting fingers near sources of house current, bad things can happen.

Still, this is a great idea and perhaps the best idea I’ve seen when it comes to trying to make a basic home component look a bit more interesting.  Painted sockets are OK, but why go that route when you can have superheroes such as Batman or Wonder Woman looking at you?



Pop Culture and Halloween

fake newsHalloween came and went a week ago, and we really should have been on top of this, but sometimes, other things get in the way.  Halloween is a particularly popular day in the United States, when children go out to trick-or-treat dressed in costume.

Most children dress in “classic” costumes, such as that of a witch or a ghost or a hobo, and many like to buy pre-made costumes depicting their favorite characters from a movie, book, or television program.  We had someone at our door this year who was dressed as Nala from The Lion King, for example.

For children, popular culture, at least in the form of entertainment, seems to drive their interest in Halloween costumes, and the costume industry is undoubtedly grateful, as those children (or their parents) spend millions of dollars every year to dress up their children like Harry Potter or Wonder Woman.

Adults like to dress in costume, as well.  They tend not to go trick-or-treating, but they do like to attend Halloween parties, and many like to show up for those parties in costume.

You’re not likely to see adults showing up for parties dressed as Don Draper or Homer Simpson, though.  Adults, at least the clever ones, do embrace popular culture when it comes time to dress up for Halloween.  But they’re more likely to take their cues from what’s appearing on the news, rather than what’s appearing on their favorite television programs or showing at the local movie theater.

Here are a few examples of some popular-culture-driven Halloween costumes for adults that we saw, heard about, or read about this year:

Fake news – Fake news has been, well, in the news a lot during the past year.  First, it came out that many people who had voted in the 2016 Presidential elections might have had their opinions swayed by news stories that weren’t actually news, but were fabricated stories that were intended to give the impression that they were real.  Then, the real President began using the term “fake news” to refer to any news story that he felt portrayed him in a negative light.  Regardless, you can, if you like, dress as fake news by wearing a fake news dress.

bunnyPregnant Kylie Jenner – Not everyone follows the adventures of the Jenner clan, but if you do, you’ll know that Kylie Jenner recently announced that she is expecting.  For some people, this is a Really Big Deal, and if you’re one of those, you can buy this costume and pretend that you’re Ms. Jenner herself.

Playboy Bunny – With the recent passing of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, lots of women took the opportunity to dress up as a Playboy Bunny for Halloween.  Sexy costumes have been in vogue for decades, and this iconic look has long been a popular one.  All you’d need to go as Hef himself, of course, would be a smoking jacket and a pipe…and a bunny to keep you company, of course.

All of this will seem obsolete by the time next Halloween comes around.  By then, we’ll have a new set of memes to wear.



Rare Beatles Clothing Up for Sale

gorge ringo suitIt’s hard to believe that more than 50 years since they first became famous, the Beatles are still amazingly popular with the public.  They continue to sell millions of albums every year, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still sell out concerts when they play live, and collectors still have a lot of interest in rare items related to the 1960s band.

One would think that with the two surviving bandmembers now in their mid-70s, that most collectors would have either died off or lost interest by now, but sales of anything related to the Fab Four remain strong.

We will soon see how strong those sales are in an upcoming auction to be held by Heritage Auctions, an auction company based in Dallas, Texas.

Heritage sells all manner of collectible items, from real estate to jewelry, to entertainment memorabilia to fine art.

And next month, on November 11, they will be selling some items of clothing that belonged to three of the four members of the Beatles.

The most noteworthy of the items is probably a blue sweater that was worn by Paul McCartney during some 1973 performances in the UK.  The blue sweater features a wings logo to represent the band he had at the time.  It’s very much a piece of its era, and not likely something that a prospective buyer would want to wear today.  Still, were it to be framed, it would be quite obvious what it was and what it represents.

On the downside, it represents an era of McCartney’s career that came after the dissolution of the band, which broke up in early 1970.  The opening bid for this item is $8000.

beatles autographsAlso for sale is a “suit,” though it’s a mixed one, consisting of a suit jacket that belonged to George Harrison and a pair of trousers that belonged to the band’s drummer, Ringo Starr.  They’re being offered together as a lot, and perhaps that is fitting, as the two band members wore those items during their second American tour in 1965.

The jacket has a custom label that says “George Beatle” inside, and Ringo’s pants have a custom label, as well.  Minimum bid on this odd pairing of jacket and pants is $50,000.  No word on where Ringo’s jacket or George’s trousers might be today, though they’d make an equally odd pairing at auction should the two of them ever turn up.

Personal items that belong to the former Beatles tend to sell for sometimes surprising amounts of money.  Many of their records also sell for huge sums, but the records are far more common than otherwise one-of-a-kind items such as jewelry, handwritten music lyrics, or items of clothing.  Handwritten lyrics to their songs have sold for as much as $1 million at auction.

The auction on November 11 will also feature some rare records by the Beatles and other artists, a photo autographed by all four band members, as well as posters and other rock and roll-related memorabilia.  If you are interested in these items, or if you just cannot live without owning George/Ringo’s suit, then you can find more details at the Heritage Auctions Website.

Just in case you have forgotten, here is a video of the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964: