Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Battle of the Bottles

     Some trends are a little confusing to me, which should be all the more reason to post about them, right?
     So let's talk bottles.
     If you haven't noticed, beverages such as beer and soda are showing up more and more in aluminum bottles. Not aluminum cans, not glass bottles, but aluminum bottles, like the ones below.
      Coca Cola since 2005 has been on the path to aluminum bottles, reportedly commissioning  five design groups from five continents to rethink packaging, with an eye towards hip urban flair. Specifically this turned out to mean new aluminum bottles, to be found only "in the most exclusive clubs and lounges." To me that's Coke in pursuit of another marketing gimmick to rejuvenate the brand, and it came out in the form of aluminum bottles. The bottles are indeed cute, though. I recently had a Sprite in one of those in  South Miami, clearly indicating that I was attending a most exclusive happy hour.
     Beer and other drinks have been showing up in aluminum bottles as well. Coors Light introduced in September a 16-oz. re-sealeable aluminum pint. A protein shake called Pure Pro 50, launched in February, claims to be the first protein drink packaged in an aluminum bottle. And below are Budweiser's entries.

     The trend has been working its way through different drinks for the past five years or so. A 2009 article in website reports that in 2004, CCL Container’s  aluminum bottle was selected as one of Business Week Magazine’s Best New Products. It might all have started from there.
     The advantage for beverage manufacturers seem obvious. The aluminum bottles provide a packaging that is lighter than glass, but more slick than the traditional aluminum can. So it serves a double purpose of revitalizing a brand and lowering shipping costs.
    But also there are claims that aluminum bottles are more eco-friendly, as supposedly it takes less energy to recycle them than it does to recycle glass bottles, plus they're basically indestructible, so in theory, you could drink the beer or soda or whatever, then keep the can and use it as your water bottle, and never buy a plastic water bottle again.
    That's where it gets confusing to me. There's something of a battle going on as to which kind of container is more eco-friendly and healthier -- glass, aluminum or plastic -- and I'm not sure I can tell a clear winner. For one thing, they're all recyclable. For another, they all seem to pose some remote health hazard or another.
    For more on this issue, check out this link: And here's another article on the merits of aluminum vs. plastic water bottles:
    If you figure it out and come to a clear conclusion on which is ecologically superior, let me know.
    In the meantime, I'll just recycle whatever I end up drinking from.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

White After Labor Day -- You Won't Get Shot

     Not everyone's a fashion expert, but there are some things everyone knows, as, for example, you don't wear white after Labor Day. It's a rule so entrenched it even inspired homicidal behavior in the 1994 dark comedy Serial Mom.
     And apparently the fashion police has decided it's time to put an end to that. Word is out that it's okay to wear white in the fall, with fashion designers becoming the instigators of such season-color upset. If you like the way your white jeans fit, there's no fearing for your life any longer any time of year.
      Glamour magazine gave it its blessing last year: And fashion website reports that not only will white pants be allowed this fall, they will be essential:
     What gives? Color rebellion, I guess. So go ahead and lighten up the winter wardrobe.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Name-Dropping the Constitution and Holding a Rally

      These mid-term elections have an unsettling quality to them, beyond one party losing power to the party currently in the minority. The new element in play is the Tea Party, which launched itself within the past 20 months or so and now counts a slew of likely successful candidates whose claim to power is being true conservatives. Okay, that's not a trend, that's just politics, and this blog is not about politics. But do you not see a trend here?
     I'm seeing two. One is the Constitution. The other is rallies organized by TV personalities.
     The Tea Party candidates and representatives sooner or later bring up the Constitution as their guiding light to get this country back on track. And who can argue with the Constitution?

    But we all might be arguing about it soon, if the new class of congressional leaders, in the name of the Constitution, start proposing and supporting legislation that flies in the face of basic tenets of life in America, as for example, the separation of Church and State. (It's been all over the news, but in case you missed it, Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell questioned where in the Constitution is the separation of Church and State established.)
      So, here's my thought on this "behold the Constitution" trend: I better brush up on the beloved document. Not only is it a good intellectual exercise, it might be my only grip on political reality for the next few years.
      As for rallies, I thought Glenn Beck's "Rally to Restore Honor" was bizarre. Then again, I think Glenn Beck is bizarre the moment you think of him outside the role of entertainer. But hey, a big crowd showed up, speeches were made -- not political, according to Beck, even though Sarah Palin was one of the speakers -- and a good time was had by all.
     Then this past weekend comedians Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert organized their "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," also not political, even though Arianna Huffington, founder of  the liberal blog that carries her name, hired buses to transport people to the event for free. By all accounts, this rally  was a display of humor and satire targeting some politics, but mainly targeting media for dumbing down political discourse. I think I would have enjoyed this one.
     But what does it all add up to? Apparently, when the economy is tanking and two wars keep us mired in ugly conflicts, the Constitution becomes generic political slogan, while entertainment morphs into a rallying call for protest.
     Maybe the next political movement will be inspired by Lady Gaga.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Five Guys and the Renewed Love for the Hamburger

     If you live in South Florida it's hard not to notice Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The red-and-white burger place has been popping up everywhere, making more than one shopping center landlord happy, I might add. Even if you don't live in South Florida, you probably have seen them in your city. If not, it won't be long til you do. I think we're going to keep seeing more of them.

     The family-owned chain's burgers were ranked No. 1 in Zagat's 2010 Fast Food Survey, beating long-time favorite In-N-Out Burger, based in California. Five Guys' claim to fame is all-fresh (never frozen), 80% lean, grilled burgers on grill-toasted buns, and freshly cut potatoes fried in peanut oil.  Based in Virginia, Five Guys has been on heavy expansion mode since the family-owned business began franchising in 2002. Somewhere along the line it got a $30 million loan from GE Capital. As of August 2010, Five Guys had 644 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and reportedly has 1,500 units in various stages of development.
      My daughter, who has never been much of a burger eater but rather a chicken nuggets kid, loves it, because "it's not greasy, and it's really fresh." (She really says it like that. Her grandfather was in advertising, there might be some genetic manifestation here.)
      I generally don't eat burgers unless they're homemade or the Cuban variety known as "frita", and Five Guys hasn't changed that for me, as I haven't tried their burgers yet. But I will vouch for their fries and I give them credit for having a veggie sandwich on the menu, said sandwich not bad at all, especially if you include the grilled mushrooms. Keep in mind, it's a sandwich (consisting of any or all of the trimmings you would put on a burger), not a veggie burger.
       Helping the chain is a renewed love for the hamburger and something of an infatuation with the so-called "better burger", which means at the very least a hamburger that doesn't start as a frozen patty, and at the most, an Emeril Lagasse gourmet burger creation. The celebrity chef late last year opened Burgers and More by Emeril in Bethlehem, PA.
      In that vein, restaurant chain the Melting Pot says it plans to launch more than a thousand Burger 21 locations, the name referring to the 21 different kinds of burgers that will be on the menu. Total servings of burgers in the U.S. in 2009 were 9.3 billion, an increase of 800,000 servings since 2005, according to market research firm NPD. This in a year when restaurant traffic experienced consecutive quarterly declines.
     What I do like about Five Guys is its trajectory as a family-owned business. It is owned and run by a father and four sons, who to this day control how things are done, including such defining decisions as sticking to what they do best, which explains why they don't serve coffee or chicken sandwiches, and using only fresh ingredients, which explains why they don't sell milk shakes, which would be too time-consuming and costly to make from fresh milk and ice cream.
      So far, patriarch Jerry Murrell says he'll keep it that way, as he told Inc. Magazine:
      "When we got pulled to Florida, I didn't want to go! Too far. I didn't want to go to Canada -- we're there now. Two princes came from the Middle East. They want us to go over there. We have another group that says, "Anywhere you want to go, we'll fund it." We've also had a few companies that want to come in and buy us. They say they would let us run it, but I don't think they would. Why would they put up with fresh bread and taste-testing 16 different mayonnaises?"
      But to be sure, lean beef and all, noone is claiming that the juicy burger with a side of fries, even if from fresh-cut potatoes, is what the doctor ordered for your cholesterol. In fact, Men's Health magazine rated Five Guys' burgers and fries among the most unhealthy foods for their amounts of calories and saturated fat.
      Somehow that isn't stopping burger lovers. Is Five Guys on its way to becoming the Starbucks of burgers?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Aaron Sorkin and Misogyny and Facebook

     In my previous post about the movie The Social Network, I commented on how the movie made me wonder if our society has gone back three leaps in how it regards women. The observation was prompted by what I perceived to be quite a bit of misogyny in the movie. I liked the movie a lot, just not all its characters.
     I wasn't the only one who felt that way. The outcry has been loud enough that the movie's screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has responded, posting an answer to a comment in comedy writer Ken Levine's blog. You can read it here:
     I liked Sorkin's response. What I mean is I like Sorkin's honesty and the tone of his response, and I don't think he personally is misogynystic. The world depicted in his screenplay is, he says, and I think that's probably true. To quote from his response:  "Facebook was born during a night of incredibly misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who'd most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of Harvard."
      So my beef is not with him.
      What I find disturbing is that misogyny finds fertile ground among the most intelligent, best educated and highly privileged, which is what Harvard is. It's disturbing because these are people who will  lead organizations and corporations and call the shots in so many ways. We've come a long way baby, but, unfortunately, the reality is that misogyny keeps creeping up, and I'm afraid that in a post-feminism era, it goes largely unchecked.
     I wonder what would happen if all women decided to de-activate their Facebook pages. Could Mark Zuckerberg have created the ultimate comeback for women to make a powerful statement against  misogyny?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook -- Acceptance Redefined

         When most of us confront the stinging bite of rejection, we suck it up best we can and move on. It might be one of the hardest exercises of human experience, accepting somebody else's right to decide we don't measure up to their personal taste.
         But if you're a gifted computer geek/genius pursuing an undergrad degree from Harvard University, you take your rejection and let it course through your whole system, from heart to brain to fingertips, using it as nuclear power to fuel the creation of a multi-billion dollar phenomenon that has changed the way we communicate, market and relate to the rest of society.
         Yep, I just saw the Social Network.
         Before going to see this movie, I was skeptical, same as I was about joining Facebook, which I did just a couple of months ago. I thought the movie was hyped. As a Facebook newbie, I think Facebook is hyped in our lives. But Facebook won, and I'm still on it. And the movie makers won, and I went to see the movie.
.         And OMG, what a good movie. Pick your theme: ambition, talent, classism, meritocracy, establishment, anti-establishment, betrayal, pride, digital revolution, social isolation, need for belonging, ownership, and even, though not least, sexism. (By the way, has our society gone three leaps back in how it regards women? See this link:
         The movie, based on the non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, crafts the story from the various depositions that were part of the lawsuits against Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, now a 20-something who is the world's youngest billionaire. The story begins in 2002, when he was a sophomore in Harvard.
        His main antagonists are two other Harvard undergraduates, the Winklevoss twins, members of the WASP establishment, who zero in on Zuckerberg for an idea they had. His programming skills, they figure, make him an ideal sort of partner to create an exclusive online social network only for Harvard people. That's how it would make it different from MySpace or Friendster.
       Zuckerberg, portrayed as socially inept and painfully aware of his lack of membership in any of the elite clubs to which Harvard's WASP establishment is privvy, accepts. But then he runs with the idea, makes it his own, executes it and makes it a reality, a huge, gigantic, never-ending reality. He does this with the help of Eduardo Saverin, seemingly his only real friend, and a talent in his own right. But while putting it together, he leads the brothers to believe he was still working on "their" project. When the network goes live without any of their involvement, the brothers feel cheated and dishonored, and pursue restitution through the courts, claiming intellectual property.
       The movie doesn't tilt your sympathy either way. True to real life, there isn't a clear villain and there isn't a clear hero, but I was hooked until the end to see who wins. As much as I admired Zuckerberg's talent, I couldn't totally sympathize with him as the wronged outsider for many reasons, not least of which is his nasty blogging about his ex-girlfriend when she breaks up with him. He then hacks the computers of all the girls' dorms to download pictures of the girls and create a site in which people -- people as in guys -- can click to rate who's hottest. Charming.
      I wasn't rooting for the twin brothers necessarily, but I found myself not disliking them either, and I kind of thought I would. As a Hispanic woman who attended Wellesley College, a school that gravitates in the social periphery of Harvard, I'll tell you that I have never encountered a man who can make you feel more invisible than a blue blood Harvard jock. But at least in the movie, the brothers' earnestness in academics and in their chosen sport of rowing rings authentic. (They represented the U.S. in the latest summer Olympics.) So, didn't love them, but in a way found them a little more sane than Zuckerberg. (I don't know if this is a manipulative effect of the movie.)
     In any case, the way the story goes, both real and cinematic, is that they ended with a $65 million settlement. And the way the story also goes is that Zuckerberg alienates if not downright screws Saverin, his real friend. He's one of the two characters I did actually like, sympathized with and rooted for. The other is his ex-girlfriend, Erica. If both of them got the worst of Zuckerberg in real life, I feel the movie makes it up to them. They each get at least one character-full-of-dignity scene, and they are portrayed as people who understand and value the give and take of genuine, real-life, non-virtual relationships. It isn't entirely clear whether Zuckerberg does or doesn't.
     Which brings me to the whole bizarre-ness of Facebook. As cool as it can be, doesn't it also have a kind of remoteness to it? The whole Facebook thing of "asking" and "accepting" friends seems to be Zuckerberg's comeback to Harvard's clubs' tradition of "tagging" potential members. Did he create the ultimate acceptance standard?
     The fact is I don't know what Zuckerberg is like in real life. His talent is undeniable. His lastest public statement was to donate $100 million to the Newark, NJ school system, which of course is a commendable deed. According to David Kirpatrick, another author writing about Facebook (The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World), Zuckerberg isn't as angry and isolated as the movie portrays him:
    So let's just say it's the movie's Zuckerberg who is that way. It's still about acceptance. Because as the movie shows in the last scene, wholehearted acceptance by another person is something you can't get on command, even if you have $500 billion and 500 Facebook friends. It has to be given freely, and not through a click.   

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Between-You-And-Me Marketplace

     I knew that eBay and Craigs List are big, and they both strike me as a fascinating execution of a simple idea: regular folks like you and me selling and buying goods and services via the Internet. They're like gigantic electronic bulletin boards where you post what you've got or check for what you want.
     What I didn't know is that they belong in a much larger and still growing category of Internet sites in which people like you and me become the merchants, transacting directly with other people like you and me who are the customers. Then my 20-something colleague at work called my attention to the term "collaborative consumption."
     Community marketplaces like Craigs List are referred to as peer-to-peer, which describes one essential characteristic common to all of them: transactions via these sites are between equals, rather than between a small consumer and a large organization. (Tech savvy readers might take issue with me here, so let me clarify that I'm aware that peer-to-peer networks also has a very specific technical connotation having to do with sharing of computer files in a way that doesn't happen outside peer-to-peer networks, and that the classic example of peer-to-peer networks is Napster.) But for the purpose of what I'm talking about, I'll use peer-to-peer marketplaces. Authors Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers have examined this trend in depth in their book What's Mine Is Yours -- The Rise in Collaborative Consumption.
What's Mine is Yours, Book Cover
     The trend is manifest in a growing variety of such peer-to-peer Web sites. There's peer-to-peer lending sites, e.g. and, in which you can lend money to any Joe Schmoe who's on the site, basing your choice on the information provided about that Joe; and you can also borrow from any Joe Schmoe, based on the various Joe Schmoes who are willing to lend you money at the interest rates they deem reasonable, given your credit history. Hmm, who needs Wachovia and all that intrusive paperwork?
    There's also peer-to-peer car rentals, in which you can rent your neighbor's car when he's not using it. Presumably, you get cheaper rental rates than you'd get with Hertz or Avis, and your neighbor makes money on a car that would otherwise sit idle. One such car rentail site in Boston is called One in Australia is called, although this one seems to cover quite a bit of territory. Interestingly, I didn't find one for Miami, FL, but it may be a matter of time. Or maybe here in Miami we're too attached to our cars to share with a stranger, just for a few bucks.
    Then there's, a peer-to-peer rental site for everything, from tools to wedding dresses. For rooms, apartments, studios, and all manner of places to stay while visiting another city or town, there's Closer to my heart is this website,, where you can self-publish  your novel and market it to your peers.
    Peer-to-peer sites go beyond buying and selling to bartering and trading, as for example,, a site where people can exchange clothing that their kids have outgrown.
    I think the peer-to-peer commerce trend speaks to individual and community empowerment and connection, with an accompanying dose of variety, flexibility and serendipity that makes it interesting, fun and maybe more personal and human, even if you're dealing with strangers. I mean, if you need $1,000, wouldn't it feel more George Bailey-ish to borrow it from 10 individuals each willing to risk $100 on you at 6 percent interest, than from Bank of America, whose CEO frankly couldn't care less about your endeavor or dilemma? Or to rent a car from your neighbor down the street than from Avis?
     I think it's incredibly refreshing to have the option.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Square -- You Are the Banking System

      Have you ever felt like you needed a cash register wherever you go? Me neither. But now that everybody's running their own business and collecting fees from a gig here and a gig there, it might come in handy to have a portable, digital, tiny cash register that lets you collect money from anybody owing you. All they need is a debit card, and all you need is a smart phone.
       My 20-something coworker told me about it, and I said, "Are you serious?", and of course she was. A week later, she had gotten this gitzmo, called the Square, and proceeded to demonstrate on her iPhone, which has apps for every conceivable information-getting activity, but was sorely lacking one for cash-getting activities.

      The device is called the Square and it's made by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey.  The Square is really a cube, made of plastic and measuring less than one cubic inch, and which plugs into the headphone jack of the iPhone, iTouch, iPad or any Android OS phone. On top of the cube is a slit through which your client, benefactor or debtor can slide a debit card and zap! -- money from the account connected to that debit card is now getting transferred to your account. You use the keyboard to type in the amount. A record of the transaction is created and saved, and I'm pretty sure it also can be twitted somewhere, as in "You paid me the $40 you owed me. Thanks."
      Next time I go to dinner with friends and we're splitting the bill, I'm sure someone will pull up one of these. It won't be me, as I don't have a smartphone. If you do, I understand you can request a Square for free, as its maker is giving out one per user. They'll make money in transaction fees, which are paid by you. In other words, somebody means to pay you $50 and you key in that much, but when it's all said and done you get slighlty less than $50, and the Square's maker has the rest. (Don't know exactly how much the transaction fees are, but I imagine not much. The profit is in the volume of use.) Here's the website where you can get one:
     I won't be getting a Square any time soon. Nonetheless, I was just thinking this past weekend, while taking the "L" in Chicago, that the world is becoming increasingly modular. Everything one needs to do, every trajectory one needs to cover, has been broken down into pieces, and those pieces have been broken down into more pieces, and you connect as many or as few as you need to reach your goal. It's like every activity we undertake has undergone engineering scrutiny and creativity, from cooking a meal to traveling in space.
      The Square seems like a new module, a tiny one, connecting you to the banking system. It's still you and the big banking system, you navigating through that big system, but you've got a new direct route that begins on the palm of your hand.
      Modulizing things isn't new. What seems new to me is the ever increasing number of modules for an increasing number of connections to larger systems. We all become like a Me-Central of information and communication, with a gadget here and a device there.  We have the option to rely on the communal system and be part of larger modules -- like just standing in line at the bank and depositing your friend's check -- or to create an individualized one, as in:  "Here, zap your debit card through my Square."
      It brings home to me the notion that nothing is fixed, that there isn't just one route, that the whole can be broken down, parceled and compartmentalized in infinite ways, and so we do. What may be getting harder, in all aspects of life, is fully grasping the whole. We increasingly function like the the human version of a kitchen cabinet system. And at the same time, we're all blending more into the larger systems through our individualized modules, so that the whole is not so different from ourselves.
     When it comes to electronics, the more we individualize, the more we blend.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gigonomics, or How We All Came To Be CEOs

    Sometimes I'm noticing something, sort of aware of it, but not knowing exactly how to describe it, what to call it or if it even has a name. And just as frequently, I find that people smarter than me have been not only observing the same thing, but also quantifying it and given it a name. In this manner, today I came across gigonomics, a new word that encapsulates what I'm seeing all around me.
    Gigonomics refers to the hundreds or thousands of professionals -- I don't think anybody knows exactly how many, beyond knowing it's a a number big enough to talk about -- who once had solid full-time positions that consumed all their time, talent and skill, but now find that work and earnings come on the basis of a  few hours consulting here, a few hours freelancing there. In other words, they have a gig here and a gig there, hence the term gigonomics. A superb description of the trend,  including a survey with actual numbers, is fleshed out in The Daily Beast: (They posted it in January 2009, but I never said I was going to break news in this blog.)
     I've known all along that the economy collapsed, with casualties measured monthly in the rising unemployment rate. What I didn't have, and now do, is a name for the survivors, the people who didn't lose everything, who didn't become unemployed, not completely anyway, but who are not in the same place at all in their work life. These people didn't take another job with lesser pay or lower ranking. Instead, they're hodge-podging.
     I have a friend who after a series of successful jobs as newspaper editor, launched and published a magazine profitably for five years, her dream enterprise. She had to fold it when the real estate market collapsed. Now she writes a newspaper column once a week, while consulting for a friend who owns a company, while getting a graduate degree, through which she got another gig writing a chapter for a textbook.
    I have another friend whose job with a hotel newsletter publisher came to an end, so now she has a gig running one of the affiliated Web pages of a daily newspaper, and occasionally fills in for editors who go on vacation, and takes any other freelance work that comes her way. (This friend occasionally gives me a free-lance gig off of one of her gigs.) I know of another acquaintance who founded a non-profit, local, hard news blog, whose stories are sometimes picked up, for pay, by local newspapers.
    Granted that print media would be filled with such stories, given the double-whammy of Internet competition and the collapse of major advertisers. But gigonomics isn't circumscribed to print media. I know a psychologist whose position in human resources in a metal manufacturing company was eliminated, so he went back to his roots as a therapist, getting some hours in the public school system and some hours in private practice. I know an accounting assistant whose work week was cut to four days, so with her extra time she is now buying clothes in the U.S. and selling it in South America, and actually turning up a dollar. I know a commercial investment advisor whose business dried up with the freezing of the credit markets, so he now consults on any related topic for clients who already had capital on their side of  the table. 
    Recently I met a middle school teacher whose full-time job, which still exists, has morphed into a disparate collage of classes and clubs and administrative duties, filling in as she is for several people who are not working in that school anymore. It's like even the people who are still employed full time have to shuffle old gigs with new gigs within their organizations. It's all more molecular and piecemeal, whether on or off the regular payroll.
    All this enerprise is great, but no one's becoming rich from it, which is one difference between now and before. There's always been consultant career paths and freelance career paths looming out there for any corporate employee who wanted to pursue it. But before the economic meltdown, people pursued these out of desire and opportunity to take their careers one step beyond their present station in some way, financially or otherwise. Today, it's survival.
    As others have noted, people in the lower income levels have always gone about gigging in order to make ends meet. Established business owners and entrepreneurs also, in a way, are all about finding, keeping and growing a gig. (Just that it's not called a gig when you're established and with a multi-person payroll.) What is new is the kind of people who now gig for a living.
    I'm not saying it's bad, or at least not all bad. Giggers are liberated from the rigors of full-time devotion to one employer. Further, they have more ownership of their gigs than they ever did of their jobs, allowing them to dream it as big as they want. I see friends and acquaintances shaping and naming their gigs into corporate sounding activities, adding CEO and Owner to their email signatures, as well they should.
   For my part, I have a job that became part time before the meltdown, a move I had pursued voluntarily in order to spend more time with my daughter. I now think this move saved my job by making me cheaper. I get no benefits or paid time off, and it seems to me my employer welcomes the occasions when I take a day off, cutting my hours even more for that week.
     In addition, I freelance occasionally for a local newspaper, at about a fifth of the fee I remember getting for freelance work when I was a full time reporter. And then I have this blog, on which one day I might have a Google ad, and of which I am the sole founder and CEO.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warming Up to the Bestsellers

    For a few weeks now I've been telling myself that I will buy Jonathan Frazen's new book Freedom when it came out. Before all the hype about this book I didn't know who Frazen was, but that doesn't mean anything. I don't know who half the well-known people are. Then he started showing up. First, on the cover of Time magazine sometime in July, while I was at the airport. The profile story focused on this latest novel of his, how he went about it and how he is the current great American novelist. There he was again in a New York Times article about his long-awaited novel -- it's been something like 12 years since his last novel -- and how booksellers and publishers couldn't wait for it to come out, and how it has all the makings of a No. 1 bestseller. I just gotta read it.

    At the same time, I've been doing something else. Without planning, everytime I wonder into a Barnes & Noble I end  up finding my way to Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, opening it to any random page, and reading until I get interrupted by my kid and her friends. Earlier this summer I told a friend that I "hate" Gilbert because...I don't want to say it...because she has a lot of what I'd like to have. First she had a paid trip to go travel for a year and put herself back together. It worked. She healed herself beautifully. The book she wrote about her journey (she had a contract for the book before she embarked on the trip) became a huge success, was translated into a gazillion languages and turned into a movie. (I saw it twice, which was maybe half a time too many, but the timing worked given my program that day.) In her journey, she found a soul mate, married him, went on a second journey with him and got to write another book about that, titled Committed. For her, it's eat, pray, love...write, publish, earn big!
    All well merited, I will add.
    Before the movie came out and without reading the book, I had relegated it to a category somewhere between fluffy exploration and entertaining chick lit. Last night I found myself in the store, peeking. I decided I couldn't read the whole thing furtively, so I dished about $15, took it home and delved into it more. Entertaining it is, but it has all the fluffiness of a juicy filet mignon.
    Reading her I feel delivered with an honest, intelligent, informed, elucidating account of a journey that is one sole woman's journey, but for the telling, she takes in so much of the world and history and other people's experiences, that it becomes more, much more.

    Gilbert is a well-read author whose musings and insights incorporate a wealth of knowledge from others. For example, I already knew Italy was a sensuous place full of beauty, history and good food. But I didn't know Italian author Luigi Barzine, who wrote something called The Italians in 1964, in which he explained Italy to everybody else. I won't get into what he said here, because it would make this posting too long, but I will tell you that it makes so much sense in understanding Italy and Italians. (It's in page 114 of Eat Pray Love's paperback edition.) So I learned something not only about Italy, but also about humanity. She has plenty of literary and historical inserts like that throughout her story, her search, her struggle and her resolution. In the end, it's the journey of one person with lessons that are universal.
   Which brings me back to Frazen and his Freedom. So I'm at the bookstore, I have it in my hand, the hardcover (it's not on paperback yet), some 600 pages. I look at it. I remember from Time's profile piece how he writes in complete solitude, on a bare desk, without even the Internet, and has been at that year after year for more than a decade, one of his few distractions that of watching birds. I remember reviews to the effect of how Freedom is a piercing look at our middle class existence and how that existence doesn't really makes us freer or better at making choices, but not choices as in what flavor to choose, no, choices and freedom in the existential sense, and I already feel my soul 100 pounds heavier.  I remember also learning from the profile  that fellow writer, David Foster Wallace, his buddy, committed suicide in his forties, after he had published Infinite Jest, which also had huge success. I open the tome in my hand and I read lines that are..I don't know how to describe's prose that I'm not ready for, it's intimidating in some way.
   I had heard Frazen himself the night before in a National Public Radio interview, and he sounded amicable and light and he expressed regret that his novel could result depressing, and made himself responsible as a writer if readers fail to see the change his characters undergo in the story, a change I now presume is redeeming. I liked the way the guy came across.
   So, Jonathan, here's where I am: I will read you, I want to, I have a feeling your stuff is good, and not just because of the hype. But I'm not ready yet. I'm getting there. I'll get there. For whatever it's worth, know that nothing I've read about your path to success has made me "hate" you. And Elizabeth, I'm beginning to absolutely love you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Skinnier Than Skinny Jeans

With this blog I have given myself the responsibility to observe and ponder trends, but when nothing is entering the radar, I must seek outside expertise. So I asked my daugther, "What's trendy these days?" Without flinching, she answered, "You're weird." But then she offered some suggestions: "Smartphones, jeggings..."

"Jeggings? What are jeggings?"

"They're leggings that look like jeans."

Indeed they are. They are made to look like denim, but fitted so tight they might as well be made of Lycra. The good thing is that they're not Lycra or nylon, they're some sort of stretch denim -- I'm not sure if technically that can be considered denim -- but the point is that they are something like jeans, which give them more respectability than leggings ever had.

Jeggings are like skinny jeans taken to the next level. Skinny jeans -- real denim jeans that wrap very tightly around the leg, all the way to the ankle -- had gained respectability in their own right, because real jeans in any style incarnation will always be respectable, and because so many long-legged models and actresses look so fabulous in them. And one more thing -- when cut right, they lift everything up and pull everything in, and your legs might actually look half an inch longer. Jeggings have been trying to ride on the coattails of skinny jeans since last summer.

This year the trend gained momentum. In the spring, rising sales and stock prices at apparel and accessories maker Guess were credited to its peddling of skinny jeans and the jeggings variation: There's also skinny jeans and jeggings for babies.

And jeggings were breaking news in several news magazines in India, of all places. (Something's going on with India, I tell you. See my earlier post). So this garment has some mileage still left, at least in the other side fo the world. Here's the article:

You might think this is some completely inconsequential fashion topic, which of course it is by so many measures. Then again, economic recovery could ride on how we take to jeggings. That's because retailers' fortunes rise and fall with the rest of the economy and vice versa. For apparel retailers in particular, the trick is to hit on that must-have garment to spur consumers into action. This back-to-school season all bets were on the jeggings.

Consider this from an Aug. 2 article in  "As retailers head into the critical back-to-school season, the industry's second-biggest selling period, they're using an array of new tools and deals to spur consumers to buy. They also hope exclusive products such as Madonna's Material Girl line at Macy's Inc. and trends such as skinny jeans, so-called jeggings, and iPads, will spur demand."

That's a lot of hope to put on jeggings when you kind of lump them in the same category with the iPad, but indeed, that expectation was shared by many apparel retailers and the analysts who follow their stocks. Investment firm Goldman Sachs for one has had its share of bloggers and commentators poke fun at it for its focus on jeggings as a sales catalyst that would boost some retail stocks. (It's always fun when you know what a stock analyst is actually talking about.) In any event, neither jeggings nor anything else did that much for retail sales this back-to-school season.

But considering how long cargo pants and all its variations have lasted, I'd give jeggings at least through the holiday season. In the meantime, the girl in the house wants to go shopping for some, especially after this posting. "You owe me, mom."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Skin Deep Male Beauty

In Miami, it's not that uncommon to run into men of all sexual persuasions with waxed eyebrows. It always makes me wonder, Why on Earth, if you don' thave to!  Once in a blue moon I'll see a guy getting a pedicure at my nail salon. Given that I live in a suburban area, I have to figure that when I'm seeing one here, it means there's a higher ratio in more concentrated, hip urban areas. And the laser salons' brochures show pictures of men lasering away their unwanted hair, although I've never crossed paths with one. Again I would have to wonder, Dude, why? It's never been expected of you. I've come to understand that it's all part of the Metrosexual thing, which I'm not sure exactly what it means but associate with stylish dressing, grooming, and just taking care of your body.

Now comes the New York Times with this article: Men’s Cosmetics Becoming a Bull Market.     (Read it here: Apparently, sales of men's cosmetics -- who knew, but there is such a category -- are showing some significant sale increases. Concealers, face powders, even mascara.

Could it be that the pressure to look young at any age is crossing gender barriers and men are beginning to hate dark under-eye circles and dull skin as much as women? Is it an expansion of self-care with options that until now had only been acceptable for women? Are we now also going to compete on how well we apply makeup?

For my part, I like the clean-shaven, neatly dressed, cologne-splashed type. And far be it from me to get between anyone and a pedicure. I also don't wish dry skin on anybody, so go ahead and slather the moisturizer wherever you need it. Definitely work out. Everybody should. And whiter teeth, sure, if you have the patience for it. Beyond that, I really hope I don't have to see lipstick or mascara, unless you're about to go on a theater stage.

But men, if you decide to go for this trend anyway, fine. Just know you're doing it just for you. The fact that a completely natural look in men is more acceptable and well regarded that a completely natural look in women might be the one inequity that we don't need you to give up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Life is Good...Even in Traffic

I first became aware of Life is Good as something on a t-shirt we weren't exactly meant to have.

My daugther borrowed it from her cousin during a sleepover. (No matter how much she packs for a sleepover, she invariably comes back wearing some garment from her hostess and leaving some of hers behind.) Anyway, it was a soft cotton t-shirt, light blue, with a cartoon-like drawing of a smiling face (not the classic yellow smiley face but another kind of face, one with an open-teeth smile and wearing a beret) and the words Life Is Good printed underneath the image, in type that seemed to be dancing.

It soon became my daughter's favorite t-shirt, what with the color, the soft cotton and the fun, happy, easy-on-the-eye image. Being that her cousin is family, I let it slide that my daughter sort of "forgot" to ever return the shirt, and just wore it thin. (I owe you one, dear niece.)

A few weeks later, shopping in TJ Maxx, I saw this same logo printed on some canvas bags, good for carrying books or beachwear. It struck me that this logo was kind of simpatico. Happy, but without hitting you on the head with it. December came around, and while browsing through the hodge-podge of kids' clothing at Marshall's, a long-sleeve t-shirt with the logo randomly appeared. Hmm, this logo sure reproduces, I thought.

Most recently, I saw it in the most unlikely place. Driving to work in the morning, I'm staring at the cars in front of me, and an SUV, the kind with the spare tire hitched on the back door, had the logo on the spare tire cover. So it's official: Life is Good is going to keep popping up in my life. What is this thing?

The way the story goes, the logo is the creation of two brothers from Boston, Bert and John Jacobs, who unsuccessfully sold t-shirts for five years, until one happy day, for a street fair in Cambridge, they printed a set of t-shirts with the ever-happy face of a stick figure called Jake. They sold all 48 t-shirts that day and the rest is history. Their logo expanded into different variations of the same optimistic theme, and got imprinted on every kind of merchandise, hence the tire cover with the t-shirt logo. A Google review shows that they now sell millions, both online ( and in stores, including their own dedicated stores, which operate under franchise agreements. (None in Miami, though.) The company's web site is all about the good stuff, such as being green, donating to charity and holding community festivals. Life indeed is good for the Jacobs brothers.

How does something so simple generate such a merchandise empire? Beats me. But according to their story, they always felt that life is good, even when they weren't a huge success. One has to imagine that they also worked like dogs. Having lived in the Boston and Cambridge for 11 years, I can almost see them at it with conviction and perseverance, as those cities seem to engender the unrelenting kind.

But what I really like about this brand, so far, is that big as it seems to be, it has sort of sneaked on me, subtly, in unexpected places. I don't see ads for it in fashion magazines. In fact, I don't run into any promotional materia for it anywhere, I've just run into the actual merchandise. There is something fresh and organic about that.

So maybe I should heed the message and pass it along: Life is Good. And may we all end up with such happy stories as the Jake brothers.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Laptops and Coffee: Have Some Productivity with Your Latte

Yep, this has been going on for a while. But here it goes for those who have been distracted: coffee shops are becoming places to work and study as much as places to take a break. 

My daughter and I usually go to a Starbucks in the Kendall area of Greater Miami for an after-school snack.This particular Starbucks has three main areas, and at least one if not two or even all three of them used to be wide open, so we could choose which one we'd want to populate.

Lately, what we find is that territory has been marked before we get there. We'll see laptop users on both ends of the southern section, where most tables are concentrated. To seat in that section we have to negotiate territory in between. In the middle section are the comfy laid-back chairs grouped living-room style around smaller, knee-high coffee tables. More often than not, one of these has been staked by an open laptop, its owner training or selling something to another person in the adjoining chair. So most often we end up at the four-stool counter, which is usually clear as is the lone table by the north window.

When Starbucks is out of bagels, we go over to Panera Bread, in the same shopping center. A much larger place, we have greater choice of where to sit. But on last count on a recent weekday afternoon, laptop users accounted for nearly half the people in there. On weekend mornings I usually run into John, whose name I know after he once asked me to please watch his laptop while he went to get something in his car. John, I found out, is finishing a book on how he picked up the pieces and found inspiration after losing his business. Laptop at his fingers and cell phone on his ear, I'd say all the editorial changes in his book have been brewed at Panera.

For a while now urban planners have advocated for the creation of so-called "third places", meaning places that are neither home, which are "first places", or work, which are "second places". Third places are public places where people gather informally and voluntarily, interact at their volition, and experience the sharing of space with others in their community. (Google "third places" and you'll find all kinds of interesting analysis of their role in cities and non-cities.) With their welcoming designs, chains like Starbucks, Panera, Barnes & Noble as well as independent coffee bars have filled the void for such third places in many of our cities and suburbs. Not long ago at a different Starbucks, where I stopped for a coffee before a work-related meeting nearby, I ran into a three fellow high school alumni who had convened a meeting there to plan their next class reunion.

That the on-line community is now portable in the form of a laptop has added one more function to these third-place stand-ins. Originally conceived to foster relaxation so as to encourage consumption, they are now harboring a greater share of goal-directed activity as well. If Starbucks was once credited with giving people not only gourmet coffee but also 15 minutes of their own time in the form of a break, more people are choosing this relaxed atmosphere to pursue focused activity. (We'll we evern learn or want to just do nothing?)

Some say that what has followed the laptop-with-caffeine trend is a laptop backlash, meaning some coffee places are now frowing on or downright rejecting customers with laptops, especially those who camp for hours with a single $2 coffee cup. A recent New York Times article is all over this counter-trend:

But given that it was only last month (July) when Starbucks began offering free Wi-Fi in all its stores, I think we'll be sharing more coffee-break space with lighted screens before we start sharing less. And it's not only laptop users who are bringing work to the coffee shop. Not infrequently I'll see someone with a three-ring binder jotting down notes from a textbook.

For my part, when I go for a cup of coffee by myself at one of these places, I bring a book, which I usually don't read, instead staring out the window or looking around the place, just letting my mind wonder while inhaling the magical aroma of fresh coffee. I have no problem with doing nothing. Somebody has to.

Monday, August 23, 2010

India is Growing on Us

So there's Julia Roberts in the role of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of author of "Eat, Pray, Love", in the movie of the same name.  She journeys first to Italy and I am thinking "been there done that," somewhat, in some Mediterranean country anyway, and yes it was a wonderful out-of-country experience.  

Then she treks to India, where the bulk of her soul searching takes place and I, who ended up liking the movie more than I expected to, watched with something like fascination, thinking, "nope, haven't been there or done that." Not yet, anyway, but who knows...

Because we're sort of into India, which keeps showing up.

The United States ranks as the No. 1 source country for foreign visitors to India, according to India's Ministry of Tourism, ahead of the United Kingdom, which not only ruled it once, but also is much closer. (Bangladesh and Canada rank 3rd and 4th if you must know. It's all here: 
It's true that the U.S. is much larger than the U.K., but even without comparisons, consider that arrivals from the United States to India totaled 329,147 in 2001. That number has increased every year, reaching 803,021 in 2009 and accounting for 18% of all foreign travelers to the mystical country. 

Apparently, one of the reasons Americans visit India is for health care. India has become one of the top five "medical tourism" destinations, according to reports in NuWire Investor, an online site about worlwide condominium investments. The site reports that "American patients have travelled to India for procedures such as Birmingham hip resurfacing, which was previously unavailable in the U.S., and has only recently been FDA approved. Medical tourists also journey to India for procedures that carry high costs in the U.S.; for example, Apollo Hospital in New Delhi charges $4,000 for cardiac surgery , while the same procedure would cost about $30,000 in the U.S." (

And this month, the NBA is all over India, with Orlando Magic's center Dwight Howard visiting the country to launch some sort of program designed to boost the country's interest in basketball.

None of which would have interested me if it weren't for "Eat Pray Love", in which one particular scene of India caught my attention.  There's Julia Roberts in the taxi ride from the airport, which virtually makes us hold on to our seats as the driver speeds through traffic congestion in a city seemingly without lanes or traffic lights. Along that ride we see India alright: chaotic, crowded, poor, intractable. India has been on the big screen before -- "Ghandi", "A Passage to India" -- but this kind of realistic visual is more of late, as in "The Namesake", and of course "Slumdog Millionaire." 

It's like we're really getting acquainted with India, beyond importing its food and outsourcing our jobs, and we no longer need a sanitized version of this country in order to relate to it. The mainstream has always embraced yoga, and even meditation to some extent.  If well India's problems seem enough to unnerve a sitting Buddha, it also seems to cradle a wonderful spirituality we've imported for a long time. But we're going further in now, contemplating the source and all its layers. We'll take the chaos along with the Ballywood channels, and some of its health care, and we want to do basketball with them.

Guess we're engaging more of our chakras with theirs. It'd be cool if it all made us here a little less chaotic inside, while India became a little less chaotic on the outside.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Formerlies, aka Cougars or MILFs

I had totally warmed up to Cougar, it carries a fun connotation that elicits my whatever. I never could put my arms around MILF, though, and seriously, could anybody of the female gender?

Now comes Formerly, as in "formerly hot", from the book by Stephanie Dolgoff, "My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young."

I haven't read the book -- it's not always necessary to go to the printed word in search of my everyday life -- but I gather from the reviews that it is about coming to terms with aging, and that a big thing about aging is how it springs on you, like that moment when you realize that men don't look at you as a hot, desirable item anymore.  Well, here's what I want to say: Speak for yourself, Stephanie!

Okay, that's what I want to say, but I can't really say that.  What she describes is something we all experience as we get older, except maybe Madonna, I guess. Plus, she is speaking for herself, as the book is a memoir.

But indeed, most of us in middle-age land used to elicit the look, a look, some kind of look, to some degree or another, and the dial on that degree has definitely moved counterclockwise. Something was that now isn't. Something formerly was: eye-candy us, head-turning me. So the newest entry in modern women-descriptive lingo is self-explanatory.

So how do I take to Formerly?

I kind of like that it is related to something so eternal, universal and indelible as the passage of time, one of the hardest concepts for any person to grasp, objectively or subjectively. If I'm going to get a label, might as well be from the realm of the ethereal. I'm also warm to the search itself for a term or phrase that can encapsulate a complex and common experience.

The problem is that even standing on just the other side of young, I am still me: formerly me, currently me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hottest Writing Career Path: Sh*t My Dad Says

This book, Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, is on fire. It is the No. 1 New York Times non-fiction bestseller. Its path to bookshelves, though, is far from a trend, and oh how many of us wish it were.

I wouldn't know about this book if it weren't for an all-things-media- attuned friend who brought it up recently during brunch. I think we were discussing get-rich-website ideas. "Have you heard of Sh*t My Dad Says?" she asked. She had to run the story by me twice before I fully comprehended. Luckily she has an iPhone, so she could do a show-and-tell right there, giving me the visual.

By now you might know the story: Halpern was a 28-year-old Californian who decided to move back home to save money while trying to lift his fledgling comedy writing career to more solid ground. His retired dad hung around the house all day, and Halpern started tweeting the comments his dad threw at him, comments which, as it turns out, were pretty funny. The tweets became popular with his friends, then some more followers, and then went viral.

According to Halpern's website,, the turning point was when comedian Rob Corddry tweeted about Halpern's tweet, launching the tweet collection into the stratosphere. Subsequently it all got bound into a book (the aforementioned bestseller). A CBS sitcom now is in the works, starring William Shatner as the dad.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Flavor Revolution and the Lychee Martini

So I'm out on happy hour in South Miami with two friends, one a school teacher, the other a human resources manager, and the teacher, after perusing the drink menu, orders a lychee martini. The cone-shaped glass comes topped with two pieces of the white lychee pulp impaled by a toothpick. Now there's a fruit you don't see everyday. And come to think of it, isn't it usually two olives on that toothpick? If I were a martini, I'd sure be having an identity crisis.

I remember first seeing the lychee fruit years ago on the exotic fruits stand at a farmers market. Lychee is a fruit that comes from China. It is round, about the size of a large red grape, but with a red, textured grind that covers its white, slippery, fleshy pulp. It is rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, providing the health benefits of those two nutrients. And it is a lot more mainstream now than when I first saw it in that farmers market.

Just like mango some years back, lychee seems to be the flavor du jour in frozen yogurt, ice cream and apparently, martinis. The idea might be that the super fruit cancels any ravages from the alcohol -- a toast to health.

But I think the lychee martini is more about an explosion of novelty flavors in all kinds of foods and drinks than about the health craze. Flavors have gone mad. It's as if every food and drink manufacturer now has a flavor wizard dedicated to concocting the next new flavor, one off the beaten path.

Some years ago I started seeing dulce de leche in ice creams and yogurts in the supermarket. Until then, dulce de leche had been this devilishly sweet, homemade cream, widely used by Argentinians, but scarcely used by anybody else. It consists of condensed milk that has been caramelized by heating it up in a bain-marie or double boiler. Argentinians use dulce de leche to accompany every desert. As such, dulce de leche in my mind belonged in the category of unique flavors you encounter in some homemade deserts. Becoming a Haagen-Dasz flavor took it out of that category forever.

And since then no flavor has been sacred anymore. All flavors are fair game for all kinds of foods and drinks. Within the past six months I've had blueberry beer and pear beer -- I thought it would be hard to improve on the flavor of beer but I was mistaken --  and I wrote a press release about a frozen yogurt store featuring green tea-flavored yogurt.

I once listened to a consumer expert predict that people would seek adventure and exotic experiences but within the safety and comfort of home -- something like a taste of the bold without the risks of the bold. I think the flavor explosion is tapping into that inclination. These new flavors can turn a bite, sip or slurp into a mini thrill.

Most recently I saw an announcement from Baskin Robbins saying the chain will reitre five existing flavors to make room for new ones. The five retiring flavors are french vanilla, caramel praline cheesecake, campfire s'mores, apple pie a la mode and superfudge truffle. The chain didn't say which new flavors will be substituting these, but I wouldn't be surprised if lychee and green tea are among them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dainty Is Gone From Women's Wristwaches

I first noticed it some months ago on my niece's arm. Her wristwatch looked like a man's, its metallic band wide, thick, bulky. The clock face itself was big and round and bold, like a wall clock for the arm. No straining to read it.

My niece is nothing if not a fashion plate, so the style of this accessory was either an incident involving her having to borrow her husband's watch, or a deliberate choice. We talked about all kinds of topics in this family gathering and time ran out before I got to the matter of her watch, so I left it alone, happily living with the ambiguity.

A few days later, I got together with some women friends for dinner. One of them was sporting a similar kind of masculine wristwatch. Too much coincidence, I thought, plus my friend didn't have a husband or boyfriend at this point, so it was unlikely this was a loan. And then I started noticing them on every other woman who by look and style could credibly claim to have an interest in fashion. It seemed that if a woman had acquired a watch recently, it was in this hefty style.

I checked several web sites for watches and found that the variety is endless, not surprisingly. But, it seemed that all brands are displaying their wide-band big-face styles first. Then I found this headline in one of the websites: Chopard Happy Sport Chrono Women's Watch Gets a Masculine Face LiftRugged stainless steel mixed with diamonds.

That would explain it. If a leading brand goes for a certain style, the others follow. What possessed Chopard? Can't say that I know, but it probably is a good move. A watch is supposed to enhance its wearer's confidence and status, and those are two accessories women can certainly use.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cupcakes Going Out of the Box

As writer and researcher for a commercial real estate company, I was asked to write a press release for a new shopping center tenant, a cupcake place in Miami called Cupcakes Nouveau. This is a small business run by two women who turn out some magnificent-looking cupcakes, the kind with fondant topping sculpted into unbelievable shapes, almost too pretty to eat. 

As happens when you buy a car and then you start noticing how many people out on the street are driving your new car’s make and model, I started seeing cupcakes everywhere. In Miami,the most visible competitor of Cupcakes Nouveau is Misha’s Cupcakes, also beautiful and delicious.

Then I started seeing trays of fancy mini cupcakes in every coffee bar, and it wasn’t long until cupcakes became highlighted offerings in my neighborhood’s Starbucks. On TV, I just noticed, the Food channel premiered the “Cupcake Wars” program on June 15. Most recently, during a weekend trip to New York, I saw a cupcake truck, similar to the ice cream truck of my childhood, but dishing out cupcakes.

So what is it with cupcakes? Are they more profitable than a full-size cake? They wouldn’t be profitable if people weren’t buying then, so why are people buying them?

I think it's about fun food. Cupcakes bring fun food within easier reach. For a cake, you kind of need a special occasion. And say you’re by yourself at the bakery or coffee shop, getting a cup of coffee. You order a slice of cake, and you feel kind of incomplete, like you’re missing the party where the rest of the cake will be eaten, along with the aforementioned occasion that is lacking. Plus you tore this one lone piece from a once-beautiful whole. Really, you’re a taker, biting off pieces of the whole.

A cupcake, by contrast, has its entire decoration contained over its you-sized top. It is a whole all by itself. Self-contained yet part of a group, it stands on its own yet has peers. You may not be aware of it, but when you eat a cupcake, you celebrate yourself.

And at $2 to $3 a cupcake, you might be talking $30 for the same amount of batter that it took to make a $20 cake. But here I’m getting out of my league, as I really don’t know the economics of cupcake production.

I read somewhere that the cupcake trend is waning. Some people even want it to, like this writer for Huffington Post:

But if you ask me, we can keep this one for a while and watch out for its next level.


Trends are fun to notice.

To me something is trendy when it becomes more visible or ubiquitous or in use to a degree greater than that in a not-too-distant past. Some trends carry interesting stories behind them, some don’t. But they all say something about how we live our lives, about what’s happening to our tastes and styles, to our economies, about what we need and what we crave. At the very least, they say something about the creative power of the people behind them.

Even more fun would be to spot trends before everyone becomes aware of them, and there are businesses and websites dedicated to that endeavor. I don’t have all that much forecasting ability, so I’m gearing this blog to a more modest goal of commenting on things that are trending currently, about trends or fads I’ve noticed or learned about. And by things that are trending I mean anything, whether a kind of food or a book or an activity or fashion  or even a person.
Being that this is a blog, the reporting on it will be personal, which is to say, based on what I observe and learn while going about my daily life. I write with no authority other than that of a middle-aged professional with training and experience in journalism, working and living in Miami, FL. I have a pre-teen daugther through whom I absorb a whole different world of music, fashion, gadgets and entertainment.
I may end up missing the forest for the trees or simply lost in the woods. But I’ll record what I saw along the way. And I’ll be wondering if you’ve noticed the same things.