Port St. Lucie is a long way from Queens, but for Mets fans it hits very close to home. The tiny Florida hamlet where New York’s other baseball franchise pursues spring training is a short hop off the interstate and easy enough to find. The venue is a snappy little stadium called Tradition Field. Cheerful attendants wearing straw cowboy hats banded in the Mets logo guide the parking and the fans at the gates. An unknown singer trills the national anthem (quite impressively) and a lucky fan throws out the first pitch.
One might suppose that something of real consequence is happening here, but that’s not easy to discern. Surely the front-office is taking notes, but the game otherwise doesn’t count. Few members of the Mets’ starting lineup — or even their top prospects — are playing. The average spectator is instead treated to a squall of minor-leaguers, dressed up in Mets uniforms, masquerading as the Mets. They were awful, fumbling, falling and dropping balls, giving up home runs and generally failing either to throw heat or get hits.
This may have been a painful metaphor for the actual Mets, but the fans didn’t appear to be feeling any pain. It wasn’t just the bottles of ice-cold Bud Light; it was perhaps an unshakeable bond between a team and true fans who believe in their underdogs. They trade stories about bigger, better days, and randomly shout, "I love you, Mets!" to their team. Their hopes may be just dreams, but the day was sunny, and everyone had fun while watching their Mets collapse, in miniature, to those Marlins (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), 9-1.
March 7, 2014 Comments
Omar Quintanilla of the Mets is "the 14th player in major-league history to appear in a game wearing #0," reports Jared Diamond in The Wall Street Journal (2/24/14). The way Omar sees it, #0 is better than taking "an embarrassingly high number — the ones usually reserved for minor-league scrubs." And besides, it has potential for double meaning: "Is it a number?" he wonders. "Or is the letter ‘O’?" As in Omar, of course. About half of the baseball players who previously used the digit also had a first or last name starting with ‘O’.
One exception was Franklin Stubbs, who picked zero because one of his favorite players, Al Oliver, had worn it. Oliver was the first major-leaguer to choose zero, back in 1978, but says he did so for reasons other than his last name. "I was going to a new league, a new city, so it was like starting all over again," says Al, who previously had worn #16. "So ’0′ was a new starting point." It all worked out for him: By the time he retired he had "a .303 batting average and 2,743 hits."
Whatever the reason, "it takes a confident person to walk onto a field in front of thousands of people with a giant ’0′ on his back. Heckling comes with the territory." At Fenway, an announcer once introduced Al Oliver saying, "Up next … Nothing .. Al Oliver." Candy Maldonado of The Toronto Blue Jays "took some playful ribbing," when he went hitless, with teammates teasing that he was "zero for zero." But Omar Quintanilla sees only upside: "From zero to hero," he says. "That’s what I’m thinking."
March 7, 2014 Comments
Wheaties is still the breakfast of champions as far as many athletes are concerned, report Annie Gasparro and Ryan Wallerson in The Wall Street Journal (3/5/14). Appearing on a box of Wheaties has always been more about the honor than the money. Chris Evert, who took her star turn on a Wheaties box in 1987 says the payment she received "certainly didn’t stand out." But it still means a lot to her: "That box is enshrined in my office," she says. Peter Carlisle of Octagon, an athlete agent, agrees that the dollars don’t matter.
"It’s a drop in the bucket for the professional hockey or basketball players," he says, but says the box’s "iconic" status still makes it "very valuable for an athlete." Lou Gehrig was "the first athlete to be featured on the box." That was in 1934. "Michael Jordan holds the record for the most appearances at 18" and Mary Lou Retton became the first female athlete to be honored, in 1984. General Mills, makers of Wheaties, doesn’t disclose how many athletes have been its box, but a website called ranker.com puts it at 474.
Beyond the honor, Peter Carlisle says the money actually does make a difference for Olympic athletes, whom he says "receive 90% of their income from corporate sponsorships." The current Wheaties box features Olympic gold medalists Mikaela Shiffrin and Sage Kotsenburg. What this does for brand Wheaties is harder to discern — it is a 91 year-old mark that today ranks "17th among US cereal brands." And yet the boxes still hold great value for collectors: An original Lou Gehrig box commands $369.95 on eBay.
March 6, 2014 Comments
Vasilis Dimitriou is "the last living movie billboard painter in Greece," reports Liz Alderman in The New York Times (2/27/14). Vasilis is now 78, and has been hand-painting movie billboards since he was 15. His "romanticized images evoke an earlier age of celluloid, movie magazines and cigarette-smoking starlets, incongruous in an age of DVDs and downloads, digital marquees and movies on demand. (images) With "mass-produced printing" readily available, his craft "has been all but snuffed out."
Still, his work resonates with fans like George Athanasopoulous, who says "there is a sameness to everything" these days, but that what Vasilis "does is very special." It’s very special to Vasilis, too. "Painting is always on my mind," he says. "When I finish a poster and put it in the theater, it’s a thrilling feeling, knowing that people will see it and feel some magic … As long as I can keep painting, I’ll do it," says Valsilis, who got his start after getting caught, perched in a tree, trying to catch a film at an outdoor theater.
The theater’s projectionist suggested he "volunteer in exchange for watching films." The manager soon noticed Vasilis’s self-taught talent for artwork and asked him to try his hand at movie posters. His reputation grew until "10 theaters around Athens would commission his work." "Back then," he says, "you would go to the movies in a suit and tie … women wore beautiful dresses" and people would discuss the film during intermission. "Now that’s gone," he laments, but adds: "When I stop breathing is when I’ll stop painting."
March 6, 2014 Comments
There’s not much Mark Penn‘s Microsoft colleagues won’t say about him as long as they can say it anonymously. As reported by Nick Wingfield in The New York Times (3/4/14), Microsoft’s newly appointed chief strategy officer — perhaps best known as the Clinton family’s pollster — has both supporters and detractors. "Some see him as a thoughtful adviser who rubs hidebound colleagues the wrong way by presenting them with useful data … that runs counter to their intuition. Others say he massages his data … to bolster his own preconceived ideas."
"I wouldn’t say they’re cooked numbers, but they’ve certainly been spiced," says one nameless critic. Another said Penn was "not a warm and fuzzy guy." Several others reported that he said "don’t trust your gut" at a Microsoft meeting where "he made it clear his approach would be heavily reliant on data." The real flashpoint, according to still more icognito employees, was "his willingness to use negative advertising" to go after Google, via the Scroogled campaign, which skewered Google’s privacy policies.
Clearly, these Microsoft employees jealously guard their own privacy, but many thought the Scroogled campaign was both "tacky" and ineffective. Penn, however, points to research that it successfully raised doubts about Google. Most important, he has the support of apparently the one executive at Microsoft willing to go on record about him, its new CEO, Satya Nadella, who says Penn’s data-driven approach will be applied not only to advertising, but also "new product ideas" as well as "overall areas of strategic investment."
March 5, 2014 Comments
"In our data-saturated economy, privacy is becoming a luxury good," writes Julia Angwin in The New York Times (3/4/14). Julia, author of Dragnet Nation, points to all the time and money she’s spent — "more than $2,200 and countless hours" — to try to protect her privacy. Her purchases include "a $230 service" to encrypt her data, "a $35 privacy filter" to prevent people from viewing her laptop screen in public, and "a $420 subscription" for secure Internet connections.
Such purchases are necessary, Julia says, because we pay for "free" services such as Gmail, with our data. Google scans our Gmail "to offer advertisers a chance to promote their items," while Facebook "allows marketers to turn your status updates into ads for their products." Beyond advertising, "our data is … used to charge people different prices based on their personal information" and "provide different search results to different people based on their political interests."
Julia also compares the privacy situation to "the early days of the organic food movement, when buying organic often meant trekking to inconveniently located, odd-smelling stores, and paying high rates for misshapen apples." Eventually, due to popular demand, "organic food entered the mainstream of American life." Advocating for affordable privacy for everyone, as well as oversight of privacy services, Julia sees another food-industry parallel in the form of government-enforced safety standards "for our data."
March 5, 2014 Comments
Forget everything you thought you knew about the store formerly known as Restoration Hardware. As reported by Susan Berfield in Bloomberg Businessweek (3/3/14), the retailer, now called RH, "no longer sells Quakenbush nut bowls, Boston Ranger pencil sharpeners, or anything else meant to evoke a simple, virtuous American past. It summons the elegance of a salvaged estate: perfectly worn, possibly haunted dining tables, English club chairs … Italian gas streetlights."
Its new stores, "planned for high-income Zip Codes across the country," will feature "wine bars and restaurants, performance spaces, courtyards and rooftop gardens." Five such stores are already in place and about 60 more are planned. Its new, 40,000 square-foot Boston location stands four stories, complete with "a library, cinema room, billiard lounge, nursery and conservatory." A store planned for Atlanta "will be gated." "You should feel like you’re on an estate," says Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman.
Plans also involve an art gallery and a record label, funding for which will come straight out of the advertising budget. "Even if art never becomes a very big business, but it renders the brand more valuable, that’s what you want to do with marketing, right?" says Gary, who re-invented RH in his own image, based on his own taste, Steve Jobs style. "You have to find people who believe what you believe," he says. "If they believe in your taste, style, the way you do things, you can create an incredible business."
March 4, 2014 Comments
The ways in which Americans have fun "helped define the national character," writes Preston Lauterbach in a Wall Street Journal review of American Fun by John Beckman (3/1/14). On the one hand were the "American prudes" like John Adams, who "stood for the Puritan ideals of piety, sobriety and hard work." On the other was his second cousin, Samuel Adams, "though of the same Puritan pedigree and Harvard education" who "burnished a ‘raffish national tradition that flaunted pleasure in the face of authority.’"
John Adams "built a fine estate on the land where … Thomas Morton founded Merry Mount" some 150 years earlier, "a colony populated with Indians and freed servants" and whose "May Day festival introduced a European tradition of mass debauchery to the new land" that "made a profound impression on the burgeoning American identity." Merry Mount was "the forerunner of American fun," a response to nearby Plymouth Colony, "the legendary birthplace of American Puritanism."
Meanwhile, Sam Adams, a leader of the Sons of Liberty, "our founding pranksters … staged a series of boisterous but nonviolent demonstrations to protest the Crown’s taxation." It was Sam’s "merry dockside mob" that "carried out the group’s attention-grabbing tactics," including its "crowning act, The Boston Tea Party." This, writes John Beckman, was "pure American fun," and "even John Adams approved." In a way, the "opposing tendencies" of American work and play were reconciled by the Adams cousins.
March 4, 2014 Comments
Citi Bike is about making connections, not transactions, says Citi EVP Edward Skyler The profound change in New York City’s daily culture came into stark relief during an early January polar-vortex that encrusted Gotham in snow and sent wind chills plummeting into the subzero range.It wasn’t just that New Yorkers braved the elements; it was that the Big City’s denizens simply dug out bicycles and rode them around town as if it were hotter than July.
Indeed, some 6,669 people were tooling around on bicycles on the coldest day on record in about 100 years, according to tracking data courtesy of New York’s new Citi Bike program. Hey: If you’ve got a choice between a long walk in the freezing cold or short bike ride, it really is a no brainer. Even a year ago, such behavior would have been unthinkable simply because it wasn’t an option. It is only since bike sharing arrived in New York City last May that a two-wheeled alternative was a possibility. The program was part of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s grand plan to improve city life by providing new ways to get from one point to the next. The program was not without its controversies, but its success has wildly exceeded expectations.
Even more stunning is the program’s positive effect on the reputation of its sponsor: Citi. Just six years ago, the financial giant was widely pilloried for accepting bailout money while simultaneously shelling out big bucks for naming rights to the new Mets baseball stadium. This time, it is receiving praise even from its biggest critics. Edward Skyler, a former deputy mayor under Bloomberg and now a top Citi executive, is at the center of this remarkable return on corporate responsibility. As Ed observes, the accountability in question is not necessarily tied to opening more checking accounts or selling more insurance. It has little to do with advertising or promotions. It’s about finding a fresh point of relevance that makes a difference for everyday people — whether they are Citi customers or not. continue …
March 3, 2014 Comments
Designers are "playing with food … to solve problems of scarcity, obesity and waste," reports Julie Lasky in The New York Times (2/27/14). Among them is Susana Soares, who grinds grasshoppers "into a powder that is mixed with cream cheese or butter or flavorings." Recognizing that this doesn’t sound all that appealing, she "uses a 3-D printer to turn the paste into decorative squiggles or attractive filigreed blobs" that, as she says, "look like jewelry." The insects, she notes, are "an efficient way of getting protein."
Mansour Ourasanah, an industrial designer, is also big on grasshoppers. "You can farm them at home," he says. "which you can’t do with cattle." At the Sugar Lab, meanwhile, 3-D printers are used to decorate wedding cakes, and other confections. Because the printers can "handle a range of materials … a copy of the topper can be produced in ceramic if a couple wants a souvenir of their wedding." "Cross-culturally, people are inclined to invest in customizing and embellishing a desert," says Liz Von Hasseln of Sugar Labs.
David Edwards, "an American scientist and inventor," and founder of Le Laboratoire, is known for "having introduced a chocolate product called Le Whif, which you enjoy guiltlessly by inhaling," and Le Whaf, "a carafe that vaporizes liquid, creating a cloud of tiny droplets that is poured into a glass and swallowed." "So much of great culinary experience is sensorial in a way that goes beyond caloric content," says David, who is also known for the WikiPearl, which packages "ice cream wrapped in edible skins."
March 3, 2014 Comments