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Ian MacAllen





Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are Sweater Vests Coming Between the Sexes?

Let's be honest, men only bother dressing in the morning to impress the fairer sex. Sitting around in our underwear would more or less be the ultimate fashion expression in a male-only dystopia. Mens' fashion magazines have far more photographs of models sporting undergarments than models wearing clothes. Yet, once man discovered the loincloth, the male brain's fashion lobe ceased any further evolution (see also leisure suit).

So what's a fellow to do?

Like any ordinary consumer struggling in a celebrity driven culture, I decided to take my fashion cues from a television icon. I chose Chuck Bass, the evil upper east sider from hit tween drama Gossip Girl. I mean, I totally aspire to be a filthy rich teenager boozing it up in Manhattan, so why not mimic one I saw on TV?

Cue the Sweater Vest.

Sure, the sweater vest has long been the province of grandfathers and perverts, but Chuck Bass plays it up with grace and style. On the other hand, has there been a press event where New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine isn't sporting a sweater vest? I was left with serious reservations; I'm decades away from being a grandfather. So if I donned a sweater vest, would I be a Chuck Bass or a Jon Corzine?

I could think of just one way of solving the predicament: ask a lady. I urgently sent out an instant message, "Important Question: Are Sweater Vests Cool?"

But why stop at asking just one lady? I decided the only solution was to poll a few lady friends. Well now the whole world can benefit from my not that scientific survey. The results are in: 4 out of 5 women think sweater vests are cool.

Alright. I'm feeling pretty good. Maybe I'll rush out, make a quick purchase and put myself on the way to Chuck Bass-ism this afternoon, I think as I browse the websites of national clothing retailers. But wait just a second -- if 80% of women think sweater vests are cool, why is Chuck Bass the only bloke gutsy enough to sport the three quarters sweater?

Obviously the only rational thing was to go ahead and poll my male friends. The results: 4 out of 5 men think sweater vests are not cool.

Well that explains a lot.

So until that day society segregates men and women, I have decided sweater vests have a place in my wardrobe. After all, if I'm going through the bother of putting on pants, its only so women think I'm cool.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Tis the Season

Today kicked off the holiday shopping insanity during an era, consumers are reminded through a barrage of media, experiencing the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression. But instead of soup lines, Americans are lining up outside stores looking to spend the last of their money.

At the onset of the great depression a little more than a decade after the first socialist revolution, free market critics pointed to the stock crash as the inevitable end of the capitalist system. Capitalism is broken! The revolution is here! Workers of the world unite!

We should be so lucky. Instead, the terror is unfolding not in the streets of Washington or New York, but in the aisles of big box stores hocking electronic gadgets and clothing assembled by children (small hands sew buttons better!):

A 34-year-old Wal-Mart employee was killed, the police said, after being knocked down and trampled by a wave of shoppers who broke down the doors of the store at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y. Several other shoppers were hurt, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was taken to the hospital, police said, after the stampede occurred just after 5 a.m. [NY Times

If this is the revolution, we are all doomed. Perhaps this reaction should not be too unexpected considering the attitude of one shopper: "“I am paying a lot with credit cards, and I’m hoping the banks go out of business and I won’t have to pay them back,” Ms. O’Brien said."

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big Gay North

Blue state, red state; slave state, free state; there has always been a north / south divide in the United States. Apparently the same is true of our pornography preferences. StateStats allows users to analyze Google search terms by state; plug in Pussy, and the deep south lights up bright red, but plug in Blow Jobs, and the south is cold while the north is red hot.

Of course, as it turns out, geography really doesn't determine whether or not you are a breast man; on the other hand, the highest search term that correlates with 'tits' is 'unemployment.' Go figure-- out of work men want to see naked breasts.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

UPS vs. FedEX: Fight!

A fellow from UPS just called asking for the office manager, presumably to sell us some UPS shipping. I like FedEx. I don't like UPS. I also don't like sales calls. Usually I just hangup. But this fellow seemed nice enough that instead of hanging up, I took the time to tell him we were perfectly happy with FedEx. The conversation went something like this:

Me: We don't ship that much.
UPS Guy: How much is that much?
Me: It doesn't really matter, we don't like UPS.
UPS Guy: Can I ask why?
Me: Sure. UPS deliverymen aren't very good at delivering things.
UPS Guy: *chuckles* Oh, okay.

My relationship with UPS ended last year. My roommate ordered a package with mandatory UPS shipping. She spent the afternoon at the apartment waiting for the package to arrive (these were very important shoes). As I arrived home from work, I saw a UPS truck parked on the street. I looped around the block looking for a parking space. I found a UPS sticker was stuck to the door, one of those "Sorry we missed you" notes. This was the second one of these we received for this particular package. In the apartment I found my roommate and handed her the UPS notice. She was shocked. She spent the whole afternoon waiting for the UPS man. He didn't bother ringing the bell (we gave it a bit of a ring, just to make sure we weren't crazy).

I called up UPS. I knew the driver was probably on the next block. This is a city; the UPS trucks deliver enough packages in the neighborhood that in ten minutes the driver could not have gotten more than one or two blocks away. I demanded the local UPS dispatch; the operator was reluctant to put me through, but I was fairly irate.

Me: Your deliveryman didn't ring the bell.
UPS Girl: Sorry to hear that.
Me: You need to call him and make him back.
UPS Girl: We can't do that.
Me: I just saw the truck pulling away. He's no more than a few blocks away. He needs to come back now.
UPS Girl: We can't do that.
Me: Thanks. This is why I usually use FedEx

Fast forward a year later and the UPS salesman calls the office hoping to score a new account; sorry to hear that, but I don't ship UPS.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wall Street Thrift


Sunday, November 02, 2008


"Zack and Miri Make a Pornois about two people, named Zack and Miri, who make what my copy editors would prefer that I call a pornographic movie." writes New York Times. So is the Times so stodgy and stale that they are completely irrelevant, or is this just some cheap marketing ploy to get readers to talk about the New York Times lame review of a new movie?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Brave New Blog

Blogging, a favorite subject of bloggers, is back in the blogosphere after being deconstructed and analyzed in The Atlantic. Patrick, in quintessential blogger fashion, explains the whole thing so no one has to bother reading the actual print story. In case even his distillation is still too monotonous, I'll summarize the whole thing: bloggers should sound like incoherent twelve-year-olds because no one will take bloggers seriously anyway, and print journalism rocks.

The analysis is fundamentally flawed mostly because it begins with the assumption that a blog is still true to the etymological roots. True, the term blog might refer to a Web Log. But just as blogs themselves are instantaneous and ephemeral in their nature, so is the term already outmoded. Blogs aren't inferior to real journalism; they are the only journalism.

A blog is, in its most elemental definition, merely a descriptive way of organizing content; specifically, a blog organizes information in reverse chronological order without regard to relevance, importance or subject. Those J-schoolers obsessed with the inverse pyramid are probably flipping their shit right now.

A blog is not defined by its content or authority or intent, but simply by the structure of its content.

Consider for a moment the printed newspaper. What makes a newspaper? Its not accuracy, since we would consider both the New York Times and the New York Post newspapers, and arguably one is far less accurate than the other. The content varies too, with one paper offering insightful investigative journalism, the other sensationalist headline news. Sure, maybe you could argue the Post is a tabloid, not a newspaper. But extend the comparison to say The Asbury Park Press, or The Bergen Record-- far less authoritative than the New York Times. And even the intent of the author fails to define a newspaper. The Onion is a printed newspaper, but the intent is hardly to inform readers of the news. Satirical news may not report facts, but still the printed Onion is a newspaper.

The New York Times might arguably be the standard bearer of journalism (and considering the fun they are having there, the state of printed journalism might not be as grand as we have been lead to believe). But a Newspaper, or The Newspaper, is not the same as The New York Times. Newspapers vary in quality, accuracy, intent, and readership just as blogs do.

But then what does make a newspaper; how does a reader know they are reading a newspaper, for instance, and not a magazine, or a blog. A newspaper is defined by the structure of its content, just as blogs are. Even poorly edited newspapers share a common method of organizing information-- the most important information in the front or on the cover, with the less relevant information buried in the middle. The post's Page 6 maybe famous, but its still on the sixth page and not the cover because the information provided there is far less important than fear mongering headlines that sell copy.

A blog never considers the relative significance of content. Those stories that might be considered more important face the same relegation as any other story with each subsequent post. On a blog, A market crash or terror attack in the morning could be supplanted that afternoon by Paris Hilton. But that's the whole point of a blog. In a world that operates 24 hours a day, where the internet is always on, where 24/7 news channels hum along whether or not anybody is watching, a blog provides the immediate gratification of the here and now. See this! Read this!

If a blogger reformatted a website to organize content in the way the handles news-- that is giving 'important' stories greater prominence-- that blogger wouldn't gain credibility just because they adopted the organizational structure of a newspaper's format. Similarly, blogs aren't less relevant because they publish according to a chronological hierarchy.

Blogs are dead. Or at least the relationship between the term "Web Log" and "blog" is dead. The term blog, as quickly as it manifested, has been reinvented. It no longer signifies the incoherent thoughts of a marginalized bald white guy in grandmother's basement rambling on about politics and society and blogging. Instead, a blog has become something more. It has supplanted an outmoded medium that ineffectively delivers the news. Just as the Post is still a rag sheet and the Times the paper of record, there are good blogs and bad blogs, but the term does not necessarily mandate a specific style, an informality of words. James Joyce, were he alive, could be just as coherent as a blogger as he could be as a novelist; the format does not dictate the voice.

The era of print has passed. No one, of course, wants to hear that they have become irrelevant. If though, print masters are concerned of the decline of culture, the demise of journalism, the end of days-- then perhaps they should look introspectively. Blogs are not the bastard cousins of newspapers but simply the natural evolution of the printed word.


Friday, October 03, 2008

A Few Bail Out Alternatives

With Congress about to piss away $700 billion on Wall Street executives' poor risk management, I thought I'd offer up a few alternative ways of spending three quarters of a trillion dollars.

Bank of the United States
Wall Streeters are claiming the biggest problem right now is that banks aren't willing to lend money, and even if they do, interest rates are absurdly high. Short term credit is used to pay for all sorts of things; large corporations rely on short term loans to cover payroll and stock inventory (like cheese slices for cheeseburgers). They use long term loans to build new factories and open new stores. The fundamentals of a capitalist society is the need for capital, and that mostly comes in the form of credit.

Wall Street executives are claiming that all the bad loans they made have frightened up lenders and depreciating assets like real estate have eaten up all the available cash that banking institutions lend out. The main concept of the bailout plan is for taxpayers to buy up all the bad loans the banks made over the last decade so they have cash on hand to loan out. The downside is the taxpayers will own a bunch of bad loans that even the private sector can't make profitable.

Since the problem is corporations like McDonald's can't get loans to buy hamburger buns, then perhaps the federal treasury should simply get into the business of money lending directly. Instead of relying on banks to lend the money after the taxpayer buys up their bad debt, let the taxpayer's capital replace the investment banks' cash. I-bankers would all take government salaries-- not seven figure bonuses. Instead of a handful of Wall Street's elite profiting from usury, the federal treasury would earn the profits.

Build Stuff
Our nation's infrastructure is falling apart, and to make the economy grow, we still need some improvements, but these things all cost money. Money like $10 billion for a new Trans-Hudson rail link; $16 billion for a new Tappan Zee Bridge; $3 billion for a new PATH station, another $3 billion for the new Freedom tower. And then of course there is the Second Avenue Subway, new rail stations on the LIRR and Metro North, and actually connecting the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Bergen County. The list of goes on and on. No doubt metropolitan areas outside of New York could also use some new bridges, tunnels, subways, rail lines, highways, schools, hospitals, and libraries, projects like the Hoover Dam that helped save the nation during the Great Depression. $700 billion builds a lot of bridges.

Infusing billions of dollars into the economy by building new infrastructure projects doesn't necessarily solve the economic crisis immediately. The first beneficiaries would be architects and engineers, followed by construction firms and material suppliers like steel workers. But each industry also has accountants, lawyers, real estate brokers and travel agents. That's true trickle down economics. Such a plan would take time for the American taxpayer to enjoy the benefits, but at least the $700 billion would result in some tangible benefit in the form of new infrastructure. Simply bailing out Wall Street's bad debts helps most the very people who sent the economy into a tailspin in the first place.

Wall Street executives would argue that since the crisis gripping the economy now is a lack of credit, spending billions of dollars without relieving the credit shortages would simply mean businesses could not even bid on the projects because the firms involved wouldn't have the capital to keep themselves financed until they got paid. An easily solution is paying it forward. Getting the treasury to pay for goods and services at present is a long drawn out process; instead, cut the red tape, and mail out checks in advance, negating the need for credit in the first place.

Send the money directly to the people. Start giving away the cash in $1 million lottery prizes, tax free. Give away 100,000 prizes a month for 7 months; everyone who filed a tax return automatically is given a ticket-- their tax idea number. Given Americans' penchant for gambling, buying new toys, and stocking up on all sorts of unnecessary things, most lucky recipients would pump that money into the economy pretty quickly. Those that don't will stick the money into a savings account, providing banks the liquidity they need. Under a lottery system, 700,000 Americans benefit directly, and every American has an equal chance of being picked; under a Wall Street bail out, only handful of Americans-- those who steered our economy towards disaster in the first place-- reap the benefits.

Pizza Party!
Host the world's largest pizza party. This idea is a lot like building stuff, except instead, everyone gets pizza. America's bread basket goes to work growing wheat, American diary farmers go to work making cheese, and pizzeria's everywhere bake. No one goes hungry because there is lots of pizza, and as an added bonus, the United States gets to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for largest pizza party ever. The only losers are lactose intolerant Americans, but they were losers already since they can't eat delicious, delicious cheese.

Disney World Vacation
Send every American to Disney World. No one will notice the economy is collapsing when they are in the happiest place on earth. Mickey Mouse impersonators can pay their mortgages, and Disney can build new rides like the Dow Jones Roller Coaster and the Haunted Lehman Brothers Headquarters.


Friday, September 19, 2008

The Wallet Size Egg Chart

Yesterday, Boing Boing wrote a blurb about eggs distilling some important information from the New York Times. I'm a fan of eggs.

Working on the suggestion "Perhaps somebody will craft an attractively designed egg-shaped card suitable for lamination," I created this nifty little chart (PDF). It may not be egg shaped, but it is wallet sized. Enjoy.


Wii Market Collapses

I've been following the price of Nintendo Wii's on Amazon for the last few months, looking to buy a system. Amazon has been sold out of Wii's for months, but provides links to third party sellers. At the beginning of summer, Wii's were available from third party sellers for an average price of $310 to $325. Since those prices are well over the list price, I kept checking back once or twice a week hoping to see a drop.

By August, the prices were averaging $290 to $300, and I had hope that the systems would soon be closer to list price. Beginning in September, the prices started creeping up again, remaining over $300 probably on news that Nintendo still expected to face a holiday shortage, again.

Then Wall Street collapsed with Lehman declaring bankruptcy, AIG requiring a bail out, and Merrill Lynch finding an unholy alliance with Bank of America. The Dow closed down a little more than four percent. Now the Wii is available starting at $264, tumbling some twelve to fifteen percent from last week. Perhaps this has something to do with all those twenty and thirty something investment bankers realizing its time to put down the Wii-mote and polish their resumes.


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