Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Thursday, November 30, 2021

Yes, there is a name for the frustration we all experience when trying to liberate our consumer electronics from those heat-seamed plastic clamshells. “Wrap rage” is fueling calls for friendlier, easier-to-open packaging.

In the meantime, those plastic prisons have spawned a cottage industry:

Then consider the patent granted a year later, to Thomas Perlmutter, for the brutally sharp OpenX tool, designed for clamshell-cracking. He’s put about a million into those frustrated human hands, and demand rises sharply around the holidays, he said. Another opener called KwikCut is sold in the Home Improvements catalogue.

Personally, I’ve found several seconds of rigorous scissors-work to do the job. I may not have run into the latest and greatest versions of these protective measures, though.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/30/2006 11:14pm
Category: Business, Society
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Well, it’s probably not all straight talk. But the Fortune interview with Seagate chief Bill Watkins is plenty entertaining in its apparent frankness. The highlight:

At a San Francisco dinner on Tuesday evening, he was candid about his company’s ultimate mission: “Let’s face it, we’re not changing the world. We’re building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn.”

Well, I’m glad someone in tech finally admitted it.

Beyond that, Watkins has more cogent thoughts about the current businessworld trendiness:

Sarbanes Oxley: “CEOs who whine about Sarbanes Oxley don’t belong in their jobs. Come on guys, get over it.”

The private equity boom: Seagate went private in 2000 - in a $2 billion buyout led by Silver Lake Partners - only to go public again in 2002, giving Watkins insight into the current privatization wave. “It’s all about investors getting short-sighted. They’ve lost their patience. There’s nothing these private equity firms do that Fidelity couldn’t do. If you’re Fidelity, and you own $40 million of my business, and you want a meeting to discuss how my business could be run more efficiently, I’ll take the meeting. I’ll listen. But that’s not the way things work. When you go private, the only thing you think about is going public again.”

A man after my own heart, on both counts.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/30/2006 10:56pm
Category: Business, Tech
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It’s 2006, so that means goodbye to Encyclopedia Brown. In his place is a Wikipedia version of the boy sleuth.

Sadly, Wikipedia Brown’s crime-solving business doesn’t fare so well when his precious reference facts can be manipulated at will by an Internet-enabled Bugs Meany and Sally Kimball. The kid’s psyche is fairly shattered as a result.

I read a couple of the EB books back in the day. However, they didn’t stick with me at all; I remember pretty much nothing about the series.

(Via Sarcasmo’s Corner)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/30/2006 10:04pm
Category: Comedy, Internet, Publishing
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Wednesday, November 29, 2021

George Washington’s favorite homemade hooch is making a comeback, as slow and excruciating as it may be: Rye whiskey is poised for a rediscovery by the discerning American drinking palate.

Now though, in a turnabout, the prospects for rye have brightened considerably. Fueled by the same sense of curiosity and geeky connoisseurship that gave birth to the microbrew industry, the single-malt avalanche and myriad small-batch bourbons, rye has been resurrected by whiskey lovers who want to preserve its singular, almost exotic essence.

Unlike bourbon, which is characteristically sweet, smooth and rounded, rye has a dry, jangly, brash nature. Its spicy flavors practically dance their way through the mouth. In its simplest form, rye is a little grassy and sour, much like rye bread. With age, it becomes more complex and subtle, weaving spice and caramel flavors over and through the grassiness. Yet it retains its angularity, never quite losing its edginess. A manhattan, made as originally conceived — with rye instead of bourbon — is a completely different cocktail, dynamic rather than soothing, more Harley-Davidson than Cadillac.

I’m looking forward to it, as I go for less-sweeter spirits generally. I just hope this doesn’t compel the White House’s current George to start drinking again…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/29/2006 11:45pm
Category: Food
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More than the the surprising mechanical sophistication of the Antikythera Mechanism, a discovered ancient Greek artifact dubbed the “world’s first computer”, what strikes me is the tip-of-the-iceberg implications it represents:

[University of Munich scholar Dr. François] Charette noted that more than 1,000 years elapsed before instruments of such complexity are known to have re-emerged. A few artifacts and some Arabic texts suggest that simpler geared calendrical devices had existed, particularly in Baghdad around A.D. 900.

It seems clear, he said, that “much of the mind-boggling technological sophistication available in some parts of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world was simply not transmitted further.”

“The gear-wheel, in this case,” he added, “had to be reinvented.”

Which underlines the transitory nature of collective human knowledge and achievement, really. Who says that 99 percent of everything built and established by this present day can’t be wiped out readily, lost to subsequent generations? Having grown up during the darkest days of the Cold War, I recall pretty frequent threats of such a scenario.

Beyond that gloom-and-doom, the Antikythera will find its way into the Greek-pride arsenal of a few of my relatives, who like to expound on such cultural chest-puffing. That arsenal includes, of course, ancient steam engines and automatic doors.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/29/2006 11:27pm
Category: History, Science
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on the clock
Last time out, I said that I’d set an end-date for this little Enviga-chugging experiment. I mean, I can’t go on downing three cans of this stuff every day.

Ideally, I’d match the time spent in the clinical trials that Coca-Cola and Nestlé conducted during product testing. Unfortunately, I don’t have a source for that information; I’d be shocked if it was longer than a month. If anyone can clue me in, feel free to inform me.

In lieu of that, I’m setting the end of the year — January December 31st, 2006 — as my final day of this Enviga regimen. That would make it a six-week run, ample time to see if the calorie-burning claims of the drink are valid. It also means, naturally, that I’ll likely be bringing in 2007 with an Enviga in hand; I’m willing to sacrifice my traditional champagne in the name of science!

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/29/2006 11:07pm
Category: Food, Science
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Tuesday, November 28, 2021

Yup, after years of resisting the digital-music migration, the legal entity known as The Fab Four is finally ready to license its tunes online. And it looks like the music catalogue will be legally available through iTunes — and only iTunes.

While details remain to be worked out, Fortune has learned that iTunes is close to a deal to bring the Beatles catalog online. Apple Computer is said to be angling to become the exclusive online music store for the Beatles for a limited window of time. Other music stores, such as Microsoft’s MSN and Rhapsody, have courted the Beatles over the years to no avail, but it appears Apple is close to getting first dibs on the band’s hits.

Even with a time limit to the exclusivity, this amounts to a killer app for iTunes and iPod. But I have a sinking feeling that, even if this comes off, part of the conditions will be to sell Beatles songs in the dreaded “album only” blocs that various rightsholders (notably for movie soundtracks) demand. So even if you want to pay only 99 cents just for “Taxman”, you’ll have to pony up $9.99 (or more?) for the entire “Rubber Soul” “Revolver” album.

Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Despite my recent resolve to bolster my music collection only with current stuff, I can see splurging on a collection of Beatles tracks. Including all of the aforementioned album, which — like many a musical snob — I prefer to “Sgt. Pepper’s”.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/28/2006 10:54pm
Category: Business, Pop Culture, Tech, iPod
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No big shocker that the National Hockey League‘s Most Valuable Player — as per last year’s Hart Trophy balloting — would be Canadian born-and-bred Joe Thornton.

But suddenly, the Great White North is cornering the market on major-pro sports MVPs:

Don’t look now, but Canadians — as in Steve Nash of the NBA Suns, Justin Morneau of the AL Twins and Joe Thornton of the NHL Sharks — are reigning MVPs in three of the four major American pro sports.

It doesn’t figure to be four, though, unless the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson makes a run for the border.

Quick, someone hide L.T.’s passport!

Is Canada breeding a class of super-athletes, intent on dominating North American sports? If so, I wonder how the legal proclamation of Quebecois as a “nation within Canada” fits in. Aside from the predictable call for a Team Quebec hockey team.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/28/2006 10:16pm
Category: Political, Sports
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Monday, November 27, 2021

So is there really any money in this blogging thing? Probably not if you’re just shooting the breeze, like I am here (AdSense and Googlejuice notwithstanding).

But if you’re trying to sell your boss on the idea that a blog will bring some extra green into the company coffers, this complex-ish return on investment formula might do the trick:

Blogging ROI = (ADBT times CR times AOS times PF) divided by (HSB times S) where:

- ADBT = Average Daily Blog Traffic
- CR = Percentage of Blog Visitors Purchasing Merchandise
- AOS = Average Order Size
- PF = Profit Factor, the Percentage of AOS that is converted to profit
- HSB = Hours Spent Blogging, Each Day
- S = Average Hourly Salary + Bonus + Benefits

Here is an example.

- Your business blog gets 200 visitors per day.
- Three percent of your blog’s visitors decide to purchase merchandise.
- The average order size of a blog visitor’s purchase is $150.
- Twenty percent of each purchase is converted to profit. The profit factor = 20%.
- The person you hired to blog spends three hours per day writing content.
- This person earns $80,000 per year including bonus and benefits, or, about $40 per hour.
- Blogging ROI = (200 x 0.03 x $150 x 0.20) / (3 x $40).
- Blogging ROI = ($180) / ($120) = 1.5.

Any time the formula returns a number greater than 1.0, you will be making money with your business blog. In this case, for every $120 spent blogging, $180 of profit are generated, yielding a positive response. In this example, $60 x $365 = $21,900 of annual profit are realized.

A conversion rate of three percent, while apparently modest, actually seems optimistic to me. My experience with this blog is that search-engine guided visitors aren’t the most actionable group; they’ll scan the content in literally 2 or 3 seconds, then move on. And daily traffic in the 200 range is way too low to expect a regular revenue stream, although that does depend on just what sort of niche you’re in. Speaking of which, I wonder just how this formula jibes with more service-oriented businesses, like consulting (which has more of an affinity with blogging as a promotional tool).

Still, this tool is useful for some basic quantifying. Good luck on convincing management to pay some lucky stiff $80 grand to blog around all day!

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/27/2006 10:39pm
Category: Bloggin', Business
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to savor a flavor
I hinted before that I was getting tired of the fruit-flavor enhanced versions of Enviga.

Now that I’m edging up to two weeks of imbibing the stuff, I can confirm: I’m pretty tired of the Peach and Berry flavors. Especially Peach, because for a stretch it was the only one I could find most days, and so I think I ODed on it quickly.

The problem is, I’ve stocked my fridge with those two flavors. That one six-pack (not a four-pack, as I erroneously reported earlier) contained Peach; in hindsight, that was an ill-advised purchase. So I guess I’m going to have to pick up Green Tea cans while out and about, and dip into my fridge stock sparingly.

I’ve been drinking Enviga with meals more often, and I do think it’s a better way to go than drinking it sans food. Not sure if that’s good for marketing it as a casual or energy drink. And as I’ve said before, I don’t see how you can down more than three cans of this stuff per day.

Next time up: I think it’s high time I set a timetable limit on this little science project. Not that I’m ready to stop sampling Enviga, but every experiment needs defined boundaries.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/27/2006 10:04pm
Category: Food, Science
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Sunday, November 26, 2021

In order to boost its ranks of analysts, operatives, and researchers by 50% over the next five years, the Central Intelligence Agency is projecting a looser image to attract potential recruits. Chief tool: A lighthearted personality quiz to see if you’re CIA material.

The quiz also seeks to dispel common myths about what to expect as a government spook. My favorite:

Because of our national security role, CIA applicants must meet specific qualifications — but, don’t worry. Getting caught smoking in high school isn’t enough to disqualify you.

Note the clever wordplay there — it doesn’t specify what you’re caught smoking in high school. I’m thinking they’d let Marlboros slide; other substances, maybe not.

On top of that, the Agency seems to be targeting a curious demographic and personality type:

[Chief of hiring and employee development Tom McCluskey] said the CIA is after the generation that has grown up on the Web. “They were born with ear buds in their ears. They are ADD and it is contagious,” he said, referring to attention deficit disorder. “We need that kind of talent here.”

A premium on spazzoids running our sensitive security operations? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that the terrorists have won…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/26/2006 08:01pm
Category: Political
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special sauce
Power play percentage + penalty kill percentage = the NHL Special Teams Index. Rankings through yesterday, below. Last week’s leaderboard here.

Couldn’t dodge the STI Number ties this week; there are three instances. As before, higher-ranked power play is the tiebreaker, because I say so. Enjoy!

STI Rank Team PP % (Rank) PK % (Rank) STI Number
1 Minnesota Wild 21.6 (3) 89.9 (2) 111.5
2 San Jose Sharks 24.0 (1) 86.1 (6) 110.1
3 Montreal Canadiens 20.2 (6) 89.6 (3) 109.8
4 Edmonton Oilers 16.8 (14) 90.8 (1) 107.6
5 Anaheim Ducks 21.1 (4) 85.7 (8) 106.8
6 Toronto Maple Leafs 20.5 (5) 85.0 (10) 105.5
7 Nashville Predators 19.5 (8) 84.0 (13) 103.5
8 Florida Panthers 22.0 (2) 81.4 (22) 103.4
9 Dallas Stars 15.9 (20) 87.5 (4) 103.4
10 Buffalo Sabres 19.5 (9) 83.7 (14) 103.2
11 New York Rangers 18.9 (10) 84.1 (12) 103.0
12 New Jersey Devils 14.3 (23) 86.7 (5) 101.0
13 Carolina Hurricanes 16.1 (17) 84.4 (11) 100.5
14 Atlanta Thrashers 18.1 (11) 82.1 (20) 100.2
15 Los Angeles Kings 17.2 (13) 82.4 (18) 99.6
16 Philadelphia Flyers 14.0 (24) 85.4 (9) 99.4
17 Pittsburgh Penguins 16.1 (19) 82.6 (17) 98.7
18 Ottawa Senators 15.6 (21) 83.0 (15) 98.6
19 Vancouver Canucks 12.3 (27) 85.9 (7) 98.2
20 Colorado Avalanche 16.3 (15) 81.5 (21) 97.8
21 Columbus Blue Jackets 15.4 (22) 82.4 (19) 97.8
22 New York Islanders 16.3 (16) 81.2 (23) 97.5
23 Boston Bruins 20.0 (7) 77.0 (29) 97.0
24 Washington Capitals 16.1 (18) 80.9 (24) 97.0
25 Chicago Blackhawks 14.0 (25) 82.8 (16) 95.8
26 Calgary Flames 13.0 (26) 79.7 (26) 92.7
27 St. Louis Blues 11.5 (28) 80.9 (25) 92.4
28 Tampa Bay Lightning 17.4 (12) 73.3 (30) 90.7
29 Detroit Red Wings 10.7 (30) 79.0 (27) 89.7
30 Phoenix Coyotes 11.3 (29) 77.3 (28) 88.6
by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/26/2006 04:11pm
Category: Hockey
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Saturday, November 25, 2021

no longer reserved
Today is November 25th. Depending on your outlook, professional sports changed for the better, or for the worst, 37 years ago when All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood told MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller he would sue Major League Baseball, with the intent to challenge and eliminate the reserve clause, the effect of which would allow players to become free agents.

Early on, Flood’s quest was obscured by his apparently rarified position in the sport:

Most sportswriters at the time attacked his assertion that the reserve clause made him feel like a slave. When Howard Cosell asked him how someone earning $90,000 a year, one of the top salaries in the game at the time, could feel like a slave, he responded, “A well-paid slave is nonetheless a slave.”

Which is the heart of it. Even if you’re being compensated handsomely, it doesn’t change the inequity of the structure. These days, it’s a question of principle versus reality: It’s hard to argue that a guy (in any sport) making $15 million a year is being exploited; but considering that, often, that same player could be making even more if he were truly free to market his services to the highest bidder.

That’s why the title of the new Flood biography, “A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports” is so apt when recounting the history. In turn, it’s just as fitting when describing the current pressures in professional athletics. So we have William C. Rhoden’s “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete”. Again, exploitation doesn’t jibe with the pricetag.

In honor of Flood’s undertaking — which he fell short of despite going all the way to the Supreme Court, but shortly led to success — I present here my own eight-year-old essay on the impact, not only in baseball and other sports but on American society. The intellectual property rights are owned by the St. Petersburg Times; but since they’re not doing anything with it currently, I’m sure they won’t mind my reproduction here. Besides, they owe me for misspelling my name in print — while I was on their payroll, yet!


Independence Days
Copyright Times Publishing Co., August 14, 2021

Feb. 4, 1976, is not a particularly memorable date for most people. But it should be: It changed the course of American life, as we knew it, forever.

Yes, I know that sounds overblown. But it’s true. That date marked the official endorsement of free agency in major-league baseball. And, let’s face it, things never have been the same.

There was a time when being a free agent was the last thing someone with professional sports ambitions wanted. An athlete then wasn’t a free agent by choice; he was a free agent because no one wanted him. No team figured his talent was worth the investment of one Standard Player’s Contract, for the minimum one-year salary.

So when Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the first de facto free agent in major-league baseball, found out in 1974 that his services were his - and his alone - to offer to any team, his thoughts weren’t about how much money he would make or where he wanted to play.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a job. I got to find me a job,’ ” Hunter recalled years later.

Some reaction, huh? Instead of dreaming about the size of his signing bonus or stipulating a no-trade clause in his next contract, Hunter was worried about where his next paycheck would come from. It ended up coming from the Yankees, but it wasn’t all about the money. Hunter turned down an offer from San Diego that was $500,000 richer, and before that he even thought about staying with his original team, the Oakland Athletics.

Hunter’s concerns were natural for the mind-set of America in 1974. Job security was a central feature of everyday life. More than just economic security, a job meant an identity for the individual, more so than it does today. In exchange for hard work and loyalty to a company, a worker got a steady income, chances for advancement, a social network among co-workers and a retirement fund.

The alternatives? Going into business for yourself, if you could afford to, and taking the attendant risks. Or hopping from one job to another, offering services for a set amount of time before starting over with another outfit and not building a foundation for the future - in other words, being a free agent.

Contrast that with the images free agent conjures up today. When Mark McGwire or David Cone files for free agency, it’s not because he no longer is able to play or can’t find a job. It’s because he no longer is obligated to remain with a team and (depending on recent performance) stands to substantially increase his income by shopping his services.

The revolutionary alteration in a system that controlled a player’s destiny from cradle to grave for nearly a century didn’t happen overnight. It started in 1970 when Curt Flood decided he should have at least some say in where and for whom he played. He challenged the reserve clause, which gave a big-league team all rights to a player for as long as it wanted him.

As a result, Flood, one of the best defensive centerfielders of all time, basically committed career suicide. He also lost his case after taking it to the Supreme Court. (And he did it alone, it should be noted; no other player joined him.)

Flood paved the way for many who followed. Hunter wriggled free because of a technicality: An arbitrator ruled that A’s owner Charles Finley breached a part of his contract and therefore made its provisions invalid. The next year, independent arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that players Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were free agents after both played the 1975 season without having signed their contracts, therefore freeing them from further obligations to their teams.

On Feb. 4, 1976, federal Judge John W. Oliver upheld Seitz’s decision, ending the old system and opening the door for free agency.

The Messersmith-McNally decision dismantled the one key legal instrument by which the owners controlled player movement and, more important, player salaries. Without it, the owners had to recognize the right of players to free agency, and they conceded it with the institution of a collective bargaining agreement in 1976.

Slowly but surely, basketball, football and hockey players demanded the same right and got it. As a result, salaries have skyrocketed.

But perhaps the greatest impact of free agency has happened outside of professional sports and is being felt only now. For the generation that’s grown up with free agency, it’s a natural state. People in their 20s who are entering the work force are comfortable with trading on their skills and knowledge to advance in life, rather than committing to one organization that may or may not reciprocate that commitment.

Exaggeration? With more people leaving the traditional work force to start home-based businesses, the concept of free agency takes another step: using your abilities for yourself. A recent issue of the business magazine Fast Company proclaimed in a cover story the creation of a “Free Agent Nation,” noting that about 25-million people, or 16 percent of the work force, basically work independently of a company.

It’s been argued that baseball no longer is America’s pastime and that the game is too slow and old-fashioned to keep up with the times. But 20-plus years ago, it proved to be a trendsetter.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 08:40pm
Category: Baseball, History, Society
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burning turkey
This would be my tenth day of chugging Enviga. Under neutral conditions, one might assume that the calorie-burning properties of the drink would start to manifest themselves via the bathroom scale.

But… Along comes Thanksgiving. The stuff-your-face-fest surely skews that off, right? Even with the three cans per day flowing through my system, you gotta figure holiday feast would overload the caloric balance, and result in weight gain.

You’d think that, but it ain’t so. As of tonight, I’ve lost about three or four pounds since starting this Enviga experiment.

Here’s the thing, though: This isn’t the first time I’ve come through Thanksgiving with a net weight loss. For whatever reason, I go against the grain when it comes to turkey-day gorging. It’s not like I fast for the holiday — I eat my share, and don’t do any more exercise than usual. But somehow, I elude the fat-packing, and usually come out of it with a mild drop in poundage. Since this is par for my course, I can’t attribute it to Enviga.

So, to sum up: Enviga hasn’t had a noticable effect on me yet. If anything, Thanksgiving didn’t make a dent, one way or another (I didn’t even notice any caffeine reaction to the sleep-inducement that turkey is supposed to have). I’ll keep going with the intake — eventually I’ll determine a time limit — and see what happens long-term.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 08:10pm
Category: Food, Science
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Japan is renowned as a highly rigid, structured society. How do you deal with that if you don’t fit the acceptable mold?

A couple of recent media observations point to markedly divergent reactions, breaking along gender lines:

- Michael Zielenziger’s “Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation” examines the hikikomori phenomenon, where men in their 20s and 30s retreat from societal expectations by becoming noncommunicative shutins:

Across Japan, more than one million men and boys like Jun and Hiro and Kenji have chosen to withdraw completely from society. These recluses hide in their homes for months or years at a time, refusing to leave the protective walls of their bedrooms. They are as frightened as small children abandoned in a dark forest. Some spend their days playing video games. A few-an estimated 10 percent-surf the Internet. Many just pace, read books, or drink beer and shochu, a Japanese form of vodka. Others do nothing for weeks at a time. Unable to work, attend school, or interact with outsiders, they cannot latch onto the well-oiled conveyor belt that carries young boys from preschool through college, then deposits them directly into the workplace-a system that makes Japan seem orderly and purposeful to outsiders, even as it has begun to break down.

These young men withdraw in the most extreme sense. This is their mode of escape from Japan’s high-pressure rat race.

- Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Sheridan Prasso wrote last month about the trend among young Japanese women to “escape” to New York City for months at a time, in order to come into their own minus the traditional restrictiveness they face back home:

In the East Village on any given weekend night, throngs of such Japanese crowd the restaurants known as izakaya that have sprung up on and around St. Marks Place, in an enclave sometimes called Little Tokyo. With red paper lanterns and cacophonous dins, the restaurants serve delectables like raw liver sashimi and grilled rice balls, to tables of expatriates known in Japan as “freeters” (a combination of free and the German word for worker, arbeiter), or “NEETs” (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

As a Japanese version of slackers, such young people are often derided at home as selfish for drifting through part-time jobs or trying to develop talents in the arts — photography, music, painting, dance — rather than contributing to society by joining a corporation or marrying and having babies. The pressure can be intense.

Many escape to New York, staying from three months to three years. “In New York they feel they don’t get any pressure, that New York gives them freedom,” said the Japanese-born owner of the Sunrise Mart, a Japanese market in Little Tokyo.

The influx is at least a decade old, but unlike in the mid-1990’s when men and women freeters came in equal numbers, now it is largely a female wave — a result of the recovering economy in Japan that has made it slightly easier for young men to find corporate jobs upon graduation.

So New York is the safety valve for Japanese women who feel pressure to conform back home.

It’s easy to generalize all this: When faced with social/cultural heat, Japanese men turn inward (both literally and figuratively), while Japanese women strike outward (both literally and figuratively). This applies just to the relative minority who are non-conformists; still, it’s an interesting contrast in how the gender reactions are so much opposite from each other.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 07:52pm
Category: Publishing, Society
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Friday, November 24, 2021

So tell me: Why would anyone pay for an answering service, in this age of voicemail, answering machines, and cellphones?

I understand that doctors and certain other professionals need to be reachable at all hours. But why have some telecom center relay the incoming calls? It’s an extra level of access, and even if that filter is desirable, I don’t see how it’s more worthwhile than the aforementioned modern-day options.

This comes to mind because of one of the more frustrating aspects of calling into one of these services: They don’t initially reveal themselves as a third-party go-between, and they never have any specific information about who you’re calling. In the past, I’ve wasted several minutes talking to one of these drones, who couldn’t tell me a thing about basic information like office hours, services offered, etc. All they could do was take a message — which is something so basic that you don’t need a live person to cover.

It seems that part and parcel of having an answering service is fooling non-probing callers into thinking that they’ve reached the office at odd hours. I can’t believe that holds up for long. I also wonder if this is a modern adaptation — I believe that back before answering machines became widespread in the ’80s, declaring that you used an answering service was a mark of distinction, and therefore not something you tried to keep secret. In today’s over-saturated IVR landscape, I guess any use of third-party telecom services needs to be shrouded.

The only justification I’ve run across is the phobia some businesses have over potential customers calling in and being put off by having to leave a message via voicemail. I guess there’s a psychological reassurance in leaving your info with an actual human being — even if that human being provides no additional information and, again, does nothing that an automated system couldn’t do.

Personally, I’d prefer talking to a machine in appropriate instances. It’s way more efficient, and I don’t get lulled into the illusion that I’m talking to an interested party.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/24/2006 08:58pm
Category: Business, Tech
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A frenzied atmosphere is a given for Black Friday. But things have gone astray bigtime when shoppers feel compelled to leave the house armed and dangerous:

Alarmed by a recent shooting of a customer waiting outside a Connecticut Wal-Mart for the highly sought Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console, [West Hartford's Brian Clark] had tucked his Glock pistol in a holster under his jacket and put extra ammunition in his pocket before heading out early Friday.

“You never know these days,” he said, quickly adding that he has a state permit for a concealed weapon.

Know what I know? I’m staying the hell away from the throngs this weekend, and sticking to Amazon et al to satisfy my shopping impulses. Everybody’s gotta go sometime, but I don’t want my ticket punched as a result of a tussle over some deeply-discounted TV set.

Incidentally, a pretty succinct explanation over why Black Friday is still significant these days, even in the context of etailing and last-minute shopping:

While Black Friday officially starts holiday shopping, generally it’s no longer the busiest day of the season. That honor now falls to the last Saturday before Christmas. Stores say Black Friday sets the tone for the weeks ahead, however: What consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the season.

It’s a concerted sales event that doubles as brand enforcer. I’m not sure how realistic that is, though — it’s not like people are being introduced to Wal-Mart and other major retailers during the holiday season. But it’s a nice concept.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/24/2006 08:28pm
Category: Business, Society
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It’s not online, but Chuck Klosterman has a sidebar piece in the latest Esquire about some biochemical advice he picked up from Bill Romanowski‘s autobiography, “Romo: My Life on the Edge-Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons”:

Romanowski started taking magnesium supplements in 1995. “From then on,” writes Romo, “my dreams were so real and so vivid that the only way I can describe it is this: It was as if the rare dreams I had [in the past] were broadcast in black-and-white. The new ones were being transmitted in high-definition TV.”

Amazingly, this seems to be a very real phenomenon. I’ve started “mag loading” before going to bed, and my dreams have become memorable, dynamic, and beautiful; taking magnesium is akin to ingesting Michel Gondry in tablet form.

Better dreaming through chemistry, as it were. Not one of the benefits touted by BALCO, I’m guessing.

This resonates with me somewhat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had problems retaining what I experience during my dreamstate. Very rarely — literally, once a year — I’ll recall what I dreamt about the night before. The rest of the time, the best I’ll get upon waking up is the impression that I had, in fact, dreamt, but with absolutely no memory of what it was about.

I’ve always figured that a chronic lack of sleep was the reason. That, and timing: It seems that the closer my dream episodes were to my actual wakeup time, the better the chance that I’d remember something. From that I gather, Romanowski is a big advocate of using magnesium to achieve sounder sleep — an essential for professional atheletes’ well-being — and from that, the enhanced dream experience follows.

So, will I run out and get me a bottle of magnesium? I don’t see it. Once you start playing chemistry lab with your body, you’re asking for all sorts of unforeseen developments. I’ll stick with the hit-or-miss of my usual sleep patterns.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/24/2006 06:14pm
Category: Football, Publishing, Science
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Thursday, November 23, 2021

As you chew on that birdmeat today, you can mentally chew on how a funny-looking animal native to North America came to share a name with a Muslim country.

It’s all pretty convoluted, involving Guinea fowls, peacocks, and East Indies/West Indies trade routes. Especially enlightening is the transliterations of the bird’s name in other languages. Surprisingly, many European languages identify the turkey as an “India bird”.

My own ethnic perspective: In Greek, the turkey is known as γαλοπούλα (read that as “gallo-poula”). Exact translation on that is iffy, but among family members, the obvious etymology is accepted: “Gallo” is gallic/Gaul, which is the modern Greek name for French/France; “poula” is bird.

Which gives us “French bird”. Which I find most interesting, given Greek history and interaction with Turkey the country. My best guess: The bird we English-speakers identify as the turkey was introduced to Greece a few hundred years ago via French merchants/traders. So naturally, the natives assigned a tag according to the immediate source for this new species. Just a hunch, but it sounds right to me.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/23/2006 01:13pm
Category: History, Wordsmithing
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When I was younger, an occasional post-Thanksgiving meal activity was heading to the movie theater. We seemed to be compelled to do something, anything, to get out of the house after all that family time and gorging.

For those who don’t want cinema, this year consumerism comes to the rescue! Major retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy are open all day long on Thanksgiving Thursday, tempting with early-bird discounts and hoping to jumpstart sluggish early holiday sales numbers.

I’m guessing this is the beginning of making Black Friday superfluous. Getting into the black will becomes a prerogative. It also suddenly makes the idea of malls opening their doors at midnight tonight seem oddly quaint.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this appeal to shopaholic impulses succeed. It delivers on traditional gender-divide tendencies: The women hit the stores while the men laze around watching football, thus each getting out of each others’ hair.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/23/2006 01:00pm
Category: Business, Society
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no cranberry flavor?
Today’s showdown: Enviga‘s caffeine/calcium jolt vs. the Thanksgiving tryptophan attack.

Which will overtake my physiology? Hopefully, I’ll live through the raging digestive battle. I’ve already downed two of my daily three cans, before nibbling on any of the turkey feast, so I guess Enviga will have the early edge.

Only other development of note: I managed to find the elusive four-pack of this product. Of all places, I located it in a Price Chopper upstate, in Orange County (site of my family’s Thanksgiving extravaganza). I’ll have to keep a sharper eye out for it in Manhattan.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/23/2006 12:29pm
Category: Food, Science
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