Friday, June 27, 2008

A Super Store, Indeed



If Augusta National is golf heaven, then the PGA Superstore is heaven’s pro shop. Having grown up amidst a retail wasteland, it’s rare that . But when you enter a store dedicated to two sports (about 90% golf/10% tennis) and find yourself in a cavernous room whose size rivals stores with much broader inventories like Costco and Sports Authority, it’s hard to stay composed. As excited as it was for me, the casual duffer that I am, I can only imagine the childish glee a dedicated golfer feels as his eyes feast upon the treasure before him.

It’s literally mentally challenging to take in everything at once, to come to grips with the fact that this store’s putter department is the size of a typical sports store’s entire golf section. The staff , though knowledgeable, is not pushy. Buyers (or, rather, visitors) are free to roam and gawk without being coaxed into a purchase.

One whole wall of the store is lined with practice cages, half for private lessons and half for testing out equipment. Indeed, the PGA store takes all the guesswork out of buying a club; in front of the cages are hundreds of demo models of the latest drivers, all available to try out for free, and without the need to surrender a driver’s license or sign forms in advance.

The store carries not only every conceivable piece of golf equipment and attire, but also a full range of golf gifts for the true aficionado (golf art is a genre sui generis, with gaudy brushstrokes of various shades of green and yellow, often seen adorning the walls of dentists’ waiting areas).

While the store’s name may suggest otherwise, the other prime country club sport is nearly as well represented. A full-size indoor tennis court is located in the back of the store, replete with hundreds of demo rackets, as well as fresh white shoes to wear while serving.

The sports equipment business is a competitive one, with craigslist, eBay, and other online retailers only exacerbating the need for cutthroat pricing and regular discounts. The PGA Superstore, however, offers an experience unlike anything else in the city, no doubt earning the affection and loyalty of its customers, many of whom are likely some of the wealthiest citizens of Atlanta. It lives up to its name in every sense of the word. Keep reading...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The amazing box



There is no shortage of things to be amazed by in this world. Flight, pi, and air conditioning are three that readily come to mind. And yet despite the myriad miraculous things that we encounter throughout our lives, there is one object that is sorely neglected.
The box.

Not the “Box,” as in the large metal shipping containers used for intermodal freight transport (seen on ships, freight trains, and 18-wheelers), but the humble cardboard box. Of course there is the basic and boring 12-panel box, widely used for personal shipping purposes. But box technology has advanced far beyond that. Many templates, such as the one seen above, are incredibly complicated. These rely on intricate, origami-like folding and tucking, and often use glue to hold reinforced layers together. This results in boxes with a variety of compartments and closures. Some are as sturdy as metal or plastic boxes, which, when one remembers they’re made of paper, is pretty impressive.

Clearly these complex plans are the result of expert design, based on specific guidelines for their eventual use (display, shipping, storage, etc.) Someone is being paid to constantly devise new box designs, pushing the limits of container creativity. Indeed, determining how various pieces should be cut, folded, perforated, etc. is no easy task. This person must have superior spatial-reasoning skills—and probably finds great pleasure in those tricky IQ test problems asking which template corresponds to which box.

Not surprisingly, compendiums of box templates exist for would-be packaging designers to gain inspiration and assistance from. To be sure, boxes are big business. Grocery stores accept hundreds of them each day, filled with wine, produce, and a huge range of further-boxed goods. Companies across the world rely on acid-free boxes to store important documents and records. And anyone who has ever moved knows how helpful they are in transporting one’s belongings.

Appreciate the box. It’s one of life’s most inconspicuous heroes. Keep reading...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Newspaper Delivery Hero



I wake up ridiculously early. Generally it’s between 4am and 4:30am, with remarkable consistency. At this time of night it’s still fully dark and eerily quiet. My habit when rising this early is to prepare a bowl of cereal and enjoy it while reading the newspaper. As in the current day’s newspaper. Now you might say to yourself, “Why, but the previous day just ended four hours before! Surely they’re still working on finalizing the next day’s edition, or at least still printing at such an hour!”

Amazingly, when I walk down the driveway every morning before 4:30, the paper is there. Without fail. (Perhaps an event of historical proportions, such as the upcoming election, will break the streak.) I never cease to be amazed at the efficiency of this process—from articles being written, to edited, to put in a layout, to printed, to loaded in cars, to distributed, all before 95% of Atlantans are awake.

So this is partly a message of thanks to my newspaper delivery person: I don’t know who you are—whether you’re a man or woman, young or old, whether you drive a car or a truck, or if you throw the paper with your right hand or your left. But somehow, despite the obscenely early hour at which I require it, I have freshly printed news every morning. Most people might not appreciate how early you get your job done, but it means the world to me. Keep reading...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Another Awesome NY Times Chart

Description
An amazing map of human diseases, sorted by genes that certain diseases share. Keep reading...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Techgasm



As a so-called “creative,” I spend most of my day on the computer. Not immune to the brand of technological ADD that has infected my generation, I tend to surf the net in between bouts of productivity. I read a variety of blogs, many of which discuss the confluence of design and emerging technologies, two topics that inspire me vocationally as well as personally. These blogs discuss the latest developments in social media, hyping the newest tools for simplifying and enriching everyday life.

Each day a new application emerges that one-ups the benefits of the last, or an idea surfaces that is so obvious and clever I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it. Then comes the feeling. Sometimes, after a few minutes of breathless clicking from link to link, discovering potentially world-changing ideas, I will experience a certain frisson of excitement, a thrilling moment of happiness to be alive and anticipation for the future. After experiencing this thrill, I become ready once again to take on the world. I remove my earphones, rub my eyes, and resume my presence in reality, motivated to get things done.

Sites that provide this feeling on a regular basis include Mashable, Engadget, and Google. Keep reading...

What have I done today?



The other day I emerged from my office building to find a row of brand-new streetlamps standing handsomely on the sidewalk. They’d all been installed during the time I’d been inside, sometime between 9:30am and 6pm. My immediate reaction was one of gratitude to the men who’d set up the lamps, but this feeling quickly morphed into one of shame. What had I done that day of value? Had I made an impact on the world in any way, done anything to change my environment the way these men had?

Hardly. I’d written a few paragraphs of copy for an internal document, copy that would likely never be seen by anyone outside the office. I’m not na├»ve—I know there are millions of desk jockeys and cubicle monkeys who slave away at monotonous, uninspiring work each day; I also know that being a blue-collar construction worker is not a dream job, and that those men probably did not consider their labor particularly fulfilling or interesting.

Nonetheless, I was humbled by the juxtaposition of our respective accomplishments this day. I consider myself a “creator”—I chose the career path of a writer in order to bring original ideas into this world. But on any given day, who’s creating more value for the citizens of my community, a construction worker or myself? The answer is clear.
Keep reading...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Democratization of Personalization


Virginia Hefferman takes a look how the ability to customize nearly everything in our (digital) lives has become a major time sink, and a detriment to productivity, in her weekly The Medium column in the New York Times Magazine.

Article
Keep reading...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Lurking Danger of Perms



I’m sick of perms. Not perms for hair, though that type of perm could be included under the umbrella perm: per-month fees. Living at home and still sheltered from the full breadth of real-world expenses, I don’t even come close to experiencing the drowning sea of monthly fees many people incur. The average independent young adult faces not only the traditional monthly payments for rent (or mortgage), insurance (of several kinds), water, electricity, and other utilities, but also some or all of the following: car payments, loan payments, cell-phone bill, cable bill, internet bill, and gym bill, plus any number of membership fees, from tanning salons to Tivo, from Netflix to online communities (Match.com, Xbox Live, etc.). Some of these may start out as single charges (like a cell-phone plan), but quickly balloon with extra charges for texting and WiFi capability.

Modern living means much of our life is automated; chunks of our paycheck small and large are deducted like clockwork, no matter how much we make use of the amenities they pay for. It’s no wonder many Americans, particularly the younger generation, are in debt. Between perms, variable monthly credit card payments (often accruing massive amounts of interest), and other basic costs of life, much of what we spend leaves our pockets quietly and dangerously, like a cat-burglar sneaking off into the night.

It’s time people started paring down their expenses and paying attention to what products and services they actually need. Do this, and a bad perm is guaranteed to go down. Keep reading...

iTunes: How It Differs Across the World



Searching through iTunes recently I discovered that users may change the country the store is tailored to, simply by choosing from a list of a dozen or so nations in a menu at the bottom of the page. I ended up visiting the home page for most of the possible options, curious as to the variety of artists that I would find topping the charts. Soon I realized there were more points of differentiation than musical taste alone.

Some countries, like the U.S. have free tracks available for download each week. This offer seems to be only in English-speaking countries (the U.K., Australia, and Canada), with the notable exceptions of France and Japan. Why of all the EU nations France is the only one deemed worthy of free music is an interesting question to ponder. Tracks are by far the cheapest in the U.S. and Canada—all other countries pay at least $1.60. Japan is most expensive, with most songs costing 200 yen, or about $2. As a sidenote, Japan’s store is the only one to use non-Roman characters; songs that do show up in English are displayed using a presumably easy-to-read, bitmap-type font.

Not surprisingly, the music that tops the charts across the world varies greatly. Using the U.S. as a benchmark (for the sole reason that American music is so popular and well-distributed), one finds Canada mirrors American taste almost exactly, whereas other countries have just a handful of tracks in common.

Australia’s top ten, for example, resembles the American chart of 3-4 months ago, with songs like Florida’s Low and Finger Eleven’s Paralyzer. Europe’s charts range from the intensely nationalistic Mediterranean nations of Italy and Spain (each of which had 5/10 domestic tracks) to the more open France and Germany (only 1 out of 10 homegrown). Europe in general proved itself more willing to experiment with music beyond American pop, with songs from across Europe being equally popular. Sweden’s chart was the most generically (that is, by genre) uniform, with most of the top 10 being dance tracks. Expectedly, Japan’s chart is heavily Japanese, with only two English-language tracks languishing near the bottom.

The most popular songs across the world (in late May 2008) were Madonna’s 4 Minutes (appearing in every list but Japan’s) and Estelle’s American Boy (feat. Kanye West), which was popular just about everywhere except, ironically, America. Keep reading...