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December 2005

About Grace

AboutgraceI recently read the novel About Grace, a beautifully written story about one man's struggle with life, love, and loss. I was drawn to the book because its author, Anthony Doerr, attended Bowdoin College at the same time I did, and his work came recommended by a fellow Bowdoin grad. While I don't know him personally, I did meet Tony in passing during our college years, and was a fan of the column he wrote in our school newspaper, Silverman & Doerr, which he co-authored with Jon Silverman. I remember their writings as bightingly sarcastic, clever and sharp-witted.

But this work is different. Much of it is cold and haunting like the ice crystals about which his hydrologist protagonist so often speaks. It tells the story of Herman Winkler, a man cursed with the ability to see events before they happen, like luggage falling out of an overhead bin, or a pedestrian getting hit by a car. The stress and torment that this "gift" brings wreaks havoc in Winkler's life, ruining his personal and business relationships and almost costing him his own life. He runs away from everything and everyone he loves in an attempt to alter the future as he's seen it.

Like The Shell Collector before it, About Grace delves into all aspects of the human condition, from love, happiness, and success, to fear, sorrow, and loss. The story is an intriguing one, but it's the writing itself that is mesmerizing. Doerr's sentences are brimming with metaphors ("It was the third of September, plenty of broth left in summer's cauldron") that paint a vivid picture for the reader. About two-thirds of the way through it did hit a slow point, but redeemed itself in the end. It's a complex story, but worth the read; I've posted a similar review on Amazon, here.


Spare Tires

Wide_loadIt's ironic that on the heels of the holiday season, when many Americans tend to overeat and make New Year's resolutions to join a gym, USA Today reports that automakers are making seats wider to accomodate heftier passengers.

The article notes that extra-wide seats have become increasingly important now that 62% of US adults are considered overweight or obese. According to market research firm NPD Group, that figure has doubled since the late 1970s. While the changes aren't huge (no pun intended) - 0.5 to 3 inches in width - there may be some truth to the much publicized obesity epidemic in America.


Peerflix

PeerflixA Menlo Park-based start-up called Peerflix is capitalizing on post-holiday returns to boost its peer-to-peer DVD exchange business. Instead of waiting in long lines at retailers and dealing with stringent return policies to exchange those unwanted or already seen DVDs you received for Christmas, Peerflix is offering a new DVD release to every new user who activates their account between December 27, 2005 and January 9, 2006.

Peerflix is similar to Netflix - upon sign up the company mails you a starter kit with return envelopes - and then you make two lists: movies you want to see and movies you'd like to trade. The site then matches you with other registered users with the same titles to offer or take. But unlike Netflix, there are no monthly fees - just a $0.99 per trade charge.

Peerflix is built on an infrastructure similar to Kazaa's music sharing platform, but Peerflix creators wisely decided to focus on tangible DVDs, rather than digital movie trades, to avoid rights management issues. So they're maximizing peer-to-peer, but it's completely legal.

Industry sources predict that consumers will spend $5.8 billion buying DVDs in the fourth quarter of 2005, up from $5 billion in fourth-quarter 2004...meaning the secondary market for trades could be quite large. But Peerflix's success will depend on how many users they can activate, to ensure that their library of offerings continues to grow.


Getting Off the Hedonic Treadmill

ChristmasThe chaos in the weeks leading up to Christmas never ceases to amaze me. Step into any mall, grocery or retail store in those last days and it's absolute bedlam: people running around in a panic trying to find something - anything - for those last few recipients on their gift lists. What should be thoughtful purchases for loved ones and friends become just another "to-do" on an already long-list of tasks in a stressful season.

As Brian Kramer writes in the winter edition of  Bargain Style, "...the months of November and December have become a 60-day obstacle course. Like a reality-show contestant subjected to ridiculous physical chalenges, I must run a gauntlet of parties and dinners, deadlines and obligations. Armed only with debit and credit cards, I charge my way to the finish line."

Similarly, Jan Masters notes in the December issue of Red Magazine, "extravagant present-buying has become (literally) part and parcel of the festival...to buy is to care, which is why so many of us feel panicky until we've splurged."

When did it get like this? When did the time and energy spent buying overshadow the duration and quality of time spent with the gift recipients themselves?

Masters keenly notes that modern shopping has become therapy for some. Buying things for yourself or others can provide a sense of control, empowerment, and happiness - if only for a fleeting moment. And therein lies the problem: we acquire and/or gift things in order to feel status, happiness or love; inevitably these "things" lose their luster; and we run off to replace them with new things. It becomes an endless cycle, which psychologists refer to as the "hedonic treadmill" - or the notion that money can buy happiness.

Masters also highlights recent study findings by Psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman who believes that "this relentless urge to buy is, in part, born of our insecurities, which drive a desire to create identities through possessions." We've all been there...filling up our homes and our lives with more products than we truly need, but ones that make us feel good at a certain point in time.

So how do you get off this treadmill? Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania: When More is not Enough, states that "we need to strike a balance between seeking personal reward and maintaining meaningful relationships, and to realize that it's belonging, not belongings, that make the difference."

Kramer suggests that the trick is to act like a kid again - kids don't "lie awake in bed and fret about whether (they) purchased the right brand of blender, spent enough on a Secret Santa present, or could count four small items as the gift-giving equivalent of one supersized present." Kids don't worry about whether a gift is expensive or special enough - they rely on creativity and sincerity.

Incidentally, research indicates that physical health is the best single predictor of happiness, so maybe it's time to trade in that hedonic treadmill for another kind.


Savenor's Market

Savenors_1 I am so exicited! The new Savenor's Market has finally (re)opened at 92 Kirkland Street, Cambridge!

Those familiar with the Somerville/Cambridge area just outside of Harvard Square might recall this gourmet grocery store which Julia Child made famous (she lived nearby, shopped there often, and frequently mentioned it in her PBS television show). It is run by 48-year-old Ron Savenor, whose immigrant parents started in family business in 1939.

Sadly, this culinary institution burned down in 1991, and Savenor relocated the business to 160 Charles Street in Boston, at the foot of Beacon Hill. In fact, the Beacon Hill shop served as my introduction to Savenor's, and I visited it often during my years living in the North End.

As for the Kirkland Street location, it was rebuilt and leased out to computer support retailer, while Savenor continued to run a successful wholesale business out of the back of the builiding, selling meats to high-end local restaurants like Radius and No. 9 Park.

But now with the reopening of the original retail location, Somerville and Cambridge foodies can enjoy the array of gourmet treats Savenor's has to offer, including:

  • High-quality fresh meats, including prime beef, lamb, pork, fowl and game (wild boar or Muscovy duck, anyone?!)
  • Pre-made meals and side dishes from No. 9 Park and The Butcher Shop
  • Baked goods from local favorites Dancing Deer Co. and Rosie's Bakery
  • Coffees, teas, herbs and exotic spices
  • Pates, cheeses, crudites, breads, gift baskets & platters
  • Produce, seafood, fresh cut flowers...the list goes on!Savenors2_1

Lastly, the store offers white-glove service, with friendly, knowledgeable staff and offers home delivery or curb-side pickup (for those too busy to park the car and go inside!).

Welcome back, Savenor's - this particular foodie prefers to shop in person. And, as Jed Gottlieb pronounced in his humorous review in Boston's Weekly Dig, "to all you Beacon Hill carnivores: relax, you still get to keep your Charles Street store. Everybody wins. Except the Muscovy ducks."


This Week's Flo Moment

I subscribe to an email newsletter called Ladies Who Launch which is dedicated to profiling entrepreneurial women and their success stories. Each week, the newsletter highlights one woman's story - from where the idea for her business came from, to how she went about pursuing it, and the lessons she's learned along the way. It's an inspiring publication, especially for people like me who dream of doing something more creative, but are not quite certain a living can be made outside of the typical 9-5.

While the stories are often interesting and encouraging, my favorite part of the newsletter is a one liner in the footer - a link to Flo Moment. These delightful little reads, co-written by LWL Partner Beth Schoenfeldt and Amy Swift, remind us of being in the flow of life and living out our creative dreams. From this week's Flo Moment:

Sending off 2005 with a Kiss
by Beth Schoenfeldt and Amy Swift
December 20, 2005

The List. Here it is. The Dalai Lama has one, Deepak Chopra has one, Oprah has one....and naturally, we do too! The end of the year is upon us, and as with every ending, it’s comforting to punctuate it with reflection on what has transpired and how it has affected us. We at the FLO MOMENT know one thing for sure; hard work is so much more fun with some hard play follow-up. So consider this our 2005 swan song...we need a couple weeks to eat bon bon’s, drink eggnog, catch up on old holiday movies and toast in the New Year with our friends and family.

Here are some suggestions for reflecting on 2005:

1. Focus on the Good. It’s so easy to focus on what went wrong, what coulda, shoulda, woulda happened. However, by noticing what great things have rocked your life this year, you automatically make room for more positive energies to come your way.

2. Find The Sweet Spot. Was there a highlight this year? Was there a time you had the most fun, the best weekend, the most interesting conversation? Do more of that this year. Did you meet someone fascinating? Call them, email them, but reach out in some way. Did you go somewhere heavenly? Make a plan, do it again, or find another paradise nearby.

3. Give Thanks. You didn’t get all this way by your lonesome this year. You have people around you and in your life who have made connections, done you favors, gone out of their way and been by your side. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way toward letting them know how important they are and to making way for more great movement in the future.

4. Close Chapters. Is there some unfinished business in your life? An open-ended relationship or situation that needs closure? Allow your mind or heart to forgive, offer an apology or just gently close the door on a situation that isn’t positive. Move into the New Year without that extra baggage and you’ll be amazed at how high you’ll fly.

5. Break a bad pattern. Everyone has one. Maybe it's gossiping, biting your nails, interrupting people or creating the same situation over and over with relationships. Living in a pattern is like watching the same movie over and over, make this the year you change the script!

Have a great holiday...we’ll catch you with more MOMENTS in the New Year!

Love,
Amy and Beth


Trovata

Trovata

Visit Trovata.com and you're met with a mysterious Quicktime movie that launches from the home page. Currently, there is a French narrative that tells the story of an extended family through old black and white images. But the story ends abruptly...presumably with more to tell, but that's all you get. There's nothing else to click on that might give additional clues to the story, or the family members contained therein. No information about the owners of the site either.

While this may not be the best illustration of web design, it does peak your interest...who is this family and why is someone so interested in telling their story? The answer lies with a Newport Beach-based clothing line that literally weaves stories into its garments: a note stitched under the cuff of a shirt, or an image hidden on the inside of a pocket flap. Each garment also has a pouch which carries a letter and sometimes a gift that further tell the story.

The idea for this unique company began 12 years ago when a 16-year-old John Whitledge decided he wanted to devote his life to travelling, surfing and being creative (who wouldn't?!). While working in a surf and skate shop, he decided to start his own clothing line along this idea. He told the Australian newspaper recently, "At first the idea was more of a surf clothing company, but in college I realised that was a pretty small and limited market...so I figured [I had] to make it more of a lifestyle company that had influences of surf, but also music, art and travel built into it."

True to his word, when Whitledge was studying at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, he teamed up with two buddies - fellow surfers and vintage clothes hounds - and began making clothing in their dorm rooms, partly out of frustration at not being able to find new clothes they wanted to wear.

And thus, their clothing line "Trovata" was born (Trovata means "to be found" in Italian, in homage to its thrift-store inspired origins). Every season brings a new story with complex narratives that are jointly created by the group and ultimately influence - and woven into - the clothing itself. Two recent lines are highlighted in the Australian:

  • Trovata's Pompous and Penniless range, for example, tells the tale of the Fitzgilberts, three generations of a once-mighty New England family struggling to maintain dignity as their fortunes decline in the 1950s.
  • Blue Collar Caribbean, an account of a native who grew up working in the cane fields but ended up on a luxury yacht, and Deviant Prep, the title of which is self explanatory, are among the other elaborate back-stories Trovata has concocted.

Whitledge told the newspaper, "Once we figure out where the collection will take place, we do a lot of research on that era: what people ate, the music they listened to, the influences on their daily lives. There are a lot of labels that make cool stuff, and there is nothing wrong with that, but when you tie it all together, in a way I think it makes it stronger."

Now 26, Whitledge has little time to surf these days; his clothing line has taken off and he travels the world to meet with buyers at retailers such as Barneys in New York, Colette in Paris and Harvey Nichols in London. He recently started a women's line, too, in response to increasing demand.

Now that's a great story.

Thanks to the folks at PSFK for alerting me to this one.


Gnod's Music-Map

Music_mapA friend from work introduced me to Music-Map, an interesting little application that creates a visual mapping of musical artists it thinks you may like, based on your input of one or more artist's names. For example, I typed in DJ Kevin Yost and learned that 9Lazy9, Slowly, and Soulstance are in close proximity, indicating that I may like their music as well. The closer two artists are, the greater the probability people will like them both.

The site is driven by Gnod, a self-adapting system that collects a variety of user inputs and draws associations between them (e.g., you tell it 3 bands that you like and it uses an adaptive learning engine to make inferences between your inputs and those of others). Music-Map lives at Gnoosic.com - a site devoted to music; it has two sister sites - Gnooks.com and Gnoovies.com - for books and movies, respectively.

While the user interface of the map is cool, the information Gnoosic is delivering isn't much different from what collaborative filtering-based sites have provided for years (most notably, Amazon.com's "Customers who bought this title also bought..."). It harkens back to my first job in the Internet space at a company called Charles River Analytics that in 1997 commercialized a personalization engine called OpenSesame (later acquired by Allaire) that identified similar relationships (also between music, books and movies).

One of the biggest challenges at Gnoosic is that it's tough to link to audio clips from any of these bands to confirm their relevance; Music-Map offers up a random assortment of Amazon links and Google ads that may or may not be representative samples of music. And some of these bands are obscure (since they're entered into the database by users), making it even harder to locate more info about them online (hence the lack of a hyperlink in the Slowly reference above).


William Rast Clothing

WilliamrastPop star Justin Timberlake has teamed with friend Trace Ayala to introduce a new fashion line, William Rast Clothing. They name pays homage to two influential people in Timberlake's and Ayala's lives: their grandfathers (who, incidentally, are neighbors).

Timberlake told retailer Solis, "This clothing is representative of where we come from...It's sort of country, but it's also got a little edge and a little chic to it." So, it's a little bit Tennessee, a little bit rock-n-roll. A blogger at Popdirt.com reports that the washing and care instructions read, "We are made in China. Keeping this garment clean and fresh is easy. Hand or machine wash it in cold water separately, double check there ain't nothing in your pocket, it could mess up the color. Bleach ain't a good idea neither." He also noted that the jeans come complete with a bottle opener.

The pair said they're going to be "meticulous" about the stores in which their products are made available.  The initial collection, which is predominantly denim, is available at  Bloomingdales nationwide, Kitson in Beverly HIlls, and Solis in San Francisco; yet at the time of this post it appears that only Kitson makes the products available online. Although first reported in August, the line began appearing in stores last Fall and has met with some success; Timberlake is in fact looking to expand the existing line of men's and women's vintage T-shirts, polos, jeans and hats.