Friday, August 26, 2005

An argument for cities as the beneficiaries of the tail.

The number of text messages sent via cell phones or handheld computers increased from 253 million nationwide for the month of December 2001 to 4,659,000,000 for December 2004. Roughly two-thirds of mobile phone and computer users between 18 and 24 send text messages, compared with one-third for the 25- to 34-year-old set.

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Emerging Technology

Friends 2005: Hooking Up
Your social life will never be the same, thanks to a digital service called Dodgeball

By Steven Johnson [stevenberlinjohnson.com]

DISCOVER Vol. 26 No. 09 | September 2005 | Technology

If you’ve ever lived in a big city, chances are you know the feeling: You’re walking around downtown with a few hours to spare at the end of the day, and you know that somewhere nearby—perhaps only a few blocks away—there’s a great bar or café that’s packed with interesting people. If it’s your hometown, you might even suspect that a few of your friends, or friends of your friends, are hanging out there. But there’s no easy way to find it, other than by roaming the streets and peering into windows.

This is what economists would call an inefficient market. You have, on the one hand, a service that the city provides: bars and cafés filled with cool people. And you have a buyer willing to pay for that service. Yet most of the time, the buyer ends up schlepping home unsatisfied because there’s no way to connect with the service he seeks.

A pair of tech-savvy twentysomethings named Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert created a solution to this problem. They call it Dodgeball. The service is a mix of social network tools (à la Friendster), simple cell phone messaging, and mapping software. Dodgeball has a playful, hipster veneer, but the underlying premise behind the service gives a fascinating glimpse of the way mobile wireless computing promises to transform city life.

Most of Dodgeball’s interactions rely on the basic text-messaging features built into modern cell phones. You sign up for the service and identify other members who are your “friends.” The next time you find yourself with a few hours to spare, you send a text message to Dodgeball specifying your location, and the service sends back a reply notifying you if any friends, or friends of friends, are within 10 blocks of you. Walking in downtown Manhattan, you’ll get a message saying that Danielle is at the Mercer, while Chris and Dan are at Luna Lounge. Or you can “announce” your own plans, notifying all your nearby acquaintances that you’ve just stopped in for a coffee at Le Figaro Café. Dodgeball even lets you define “crushes” that have a special weight on the system. If you’ve got your eye on a girl you met at the last White Stripes concert, you can set up Dodgeball to send you an alert whenever she’s hanging out within a few blocks of you.

If this sounds like a Friends version of 1984—in which Big Brother is replaced by that creepy guy you met at the White Stripes concert who keeps stalking you every time you sit down for coffee—keep in mind that Dodgeball only knows where you are when you choose to announce your presence. You can’t be “seen” by other members until you’ve sent a text message alerting your friends and crushes that you’re at a specific location. And you can always make yourself invisible to an unwanted admirer. Dodgeball, in other words, is governed by what marketers call “opt in” surveillance. So far, the service has been rolled out in 22 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Boston, and Seattle. Earlier this year, Crowley and Rainert announced that they had sold their two-person company to Google—so integration with the popular GoogleMaps feature can’t be far behind.

There’s a fundamental equation to how Dodgeball works in practice: The more dense the urban environment, the more valuable the service becomes. No one will sign up for Dodgeball in a one-Starbucks town. The ideal environment for Dodgeball is one where there are dozens of potential hangout spots within a few blocks of where you are and thousands of potential people to hang with. And you only get those sorts of environments in big cities. The bigger the city, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find just the right clique because the overall supply of social groups and watering holes is so vast. It’s easy to imagine the model extended beyond your immediate social network into more narrow needs: Find all the Civil War buffs within 10 blocks of me, or Jungian psychoanalysts, or native Portuguese speakers. Or you could query for specific services that require in-person encounters: Find me the nearest bowl of vichyssoise, or an available masseuse, or that most pressing of urban needs—an empty taxi.

Urban theorist Jane Jacobs observed many years ago that, paradoxically, huge cities create environments where small niches can flourish. A store selling nothing but buttons most likely won’t be able to find a market in a town of 50,000 people, but in New York City, there’s an entire button-store district. Subcultures thrive in big cities for this reason as well: If you have idiosyncratic tastes, you’re much more likely to find someone who shares those tastes in a city of 9 million people. As Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, originally published in 1961: “Towns and suburbs . . . are natural homes for huge supermarkets and for little else in the way of groceries, for standard movie houses or drive-ins and for little else in the way of theater. There are simply not enough people to support further variety, although there may be people (too few of them) who would draw upon it were it there. Cities, however, are the natural homes of supermarkets and standard movie houses plus delicatessens, Viennese bakeries, foreign groceries, art movies, and so on, all of which can be found co-existing, the standard with the strange, the large with the small. Wherever lively and popular parts of cities are found, the small much outnumber the large.”

The small greatly outnumber the large on the Internet as well. Just think of eBay’s original target audience: people who buy and sell Pez dispensers—about as niche as it gets. Online bookstores like Amazon can maintain vast inventories of lesser-known titles because they don’t have the real estate constraints of traditional bookstores and because the Internet makes it so much easier to find the niche readers who will buy those books. The hot buzzword for this trend is “long tail” economics; instead of concentrating exclusively on big mass hits, online businesses can target the long tail of quirkier fare. In the old model, the economics dictated that it was always better to sell a million copies of one album. But in the digital age, it can be just as profitable to sell a hundred copies each of a thousand different albums.

Dodgeball suggests an intriguing twist on long tail theory. As the technology increasingly allows us to satisfy more eclectic needs, any time those needs require a physical presence—whether it’s sipping your cold soup or meeting your crush in a bar—the logic of the long tail will favor urban environments over less densely populated ones. If you’re downloading the latest album from an obscure Scandinavian doo-wop group, geography doesn’t matter: It’s just as easy to get the bits delivered to you in the middle of Wyoming as it is in the middle of Manhattan. But if you’re trying to meet up with other fans of Scandinavian doo-wop, you’ll have more luck in Manhattan.

The irony, of course, is that digital networks were supposed to make cities less attractive, not more. The power of telecommuting and instant connectivity was going to make the whole idea of densely packed urban cores as obsolete as the walled castle cities of the Middle Ages. Why would people crowd themselves into harsh, overpopulated environments when they could just as easily work from their homestead on the range? But as it turns out, many people actually like the density of urban environments, precisely because they offer diversity: Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurants, live performances by Scandinavian doo-wop bands, a thousand quirky bars and cafés teeming with potential friends and crushes. As technology increases our ability to find these long tail interests, that kind of density is going to become increasingly attractive. The long tail may well lead us away from the dominance of mass hits and pop superstars toward quirkier tastes and smaller artists. But it may also lead us to bigger cities.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The value of design.

Design Index

01.08.2005

The share prices of companies which invest in design performed up to three times better than the FTSE 100 Index over nearly two years in the run-up to December 2004.

This new research updates the Design Council's ground-breaking Design Index report, which showed that the share prices of a group of more than 150 quoted companies recognised as effective users of design out-performed the stock market by 200 per cent between 1994 and 2003. The new edition of the report is now available for downloading.

The study has charted the performance of companies grouped together for their consistent showing in design award schemes. It has discovered that a Design Index of 63 companies and a further Emerging Index have held their lead over the stock market as a whole during bull and bear markets as well as during the recovery period which began in 2003. Since then, the Design Index has grown by 43 per cent and the Emerging Index has risen by 74.3 per cent, compared to 26.2 per cent growth for the FTSE 100 Index.

In addition to a performance commentary, graphs, information on research and tracking methods and a list of companies in each design index, the new edition of the report features an analysis of retail and banking sector performance and also looks at reasons for the design indices' out-performance.

Both editions can be downloaded in pdf form using the links on below.

Design Index Report 2005

Impact of Design on Stock Market Performance February 2004

For love, not money.

Big jobs that pay badly.

Some careers cost time and money to take up. But don't expect a big paycheck.

August 17, 2005: 10:39 AM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Most of us work hard for a living. And if we're lucky, we're well compensated for the effort.

But there are some jobs you should take only if you really love the work because the investment you make to get the job and the hours you keep aren't necessarily commensurate with what you earn.

Not that all careers in this category are necessarily low-paying, at least not by national standards.

But they may require a great deal of time and money in graduate education, offer working conditions that only passion can excuse, and there may be such a long run for the roses that you forfeit prime working and child-bearing years just to achieve a salary that college peers were earning a decade earlier.

Here are just three of those jobs.

Architects
For every Philip Johnson or Frank Lloyd Wright in a generation of architects, there are countless more who work without fanfare on the everyday buildings where we work, live and shop.

Architects may spend up to seven years completing undergraduate and master's-degree studies, or up to three-and-a-half years in a master's program if they majored in another area during college. To be eligible to take the licensing exam, they also must log three years as interns working for licensed architects.

Architects with a master's might enter the work force with between $50,000 and $80,000 in student loan debt. But as first-year interns, they might earn only $34,000, the national median according to the 2005 compensation survey by the American Institute of Architects. Meanwhile, several steps up the ladder, senior architects earn a median of $68,900.

Chefs
There's a reason they say if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Restaurant kitchens usually aren't air conditioned, so temperatures can top 100 degrees in the summer, said Stephan Hengst, spokesman for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

Since most restaurant chefs are not on track to become the next Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Wolfgang Puck, they can expect far more modest incomes.

Culinary school graduates who might have spent two to four years and tens of thousands of dollars to get their degrees might get a low-level job on the kitchen line paying around $32,000 soon after graduation (more if they had experience prior to culinary school).

By the time they work their way up to sous-chef after perhaps three or four years, they might make around $55,000, Hengst said.

Benefits are more likely to be included if they work for a chain rather than a small, independently owned restaurant.

And the hours they log on their feet average about 12 hours a day, Hengst said, although 80- to 100-hour weeks aren't unusual for some.

When you work behind the scenes in a restaurant, kudos aren't delivered directly by the customer, but rather indirectly by their returned plates: the emptier, the better.

Academic research scientists
A career with one of the most disproportionate ratios of training to pay is that of academic research scientist.

A Ph.D. program and dissertation are requirements for the job, which can take between six and eight years to complete. (See correction.) Add to that several years in the postdoctoral phase of one's career to qualify for much coveted tenure-track positions.

During the postdoc phase, you are likely to teach, run a lab with experiments that require you to check in at all hours, publish research and write grants – for a salary that may not exceed $43,000.

The length of the postdoc career has doubled in the past 10 years, said Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. "It's taking longer and longer to get there. You can't start a family. It's really tough."

And it's made tougher still by the fact that in many disciplines, there aren't nearly as many tenure-track positions as there are candidates.

So, to those who earn their MBAs in two years and snag six-figure jobs soon after graduation, your jobs may be hard, but maybe not quite as hard as you think.

Correction: An earlier version of this story understated the number of years it takes to get a PhD in the sciences. CNN/Money regrets the error. (Return to story.)

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Read about some surprising six-figure jobs: stunt driver; auctioneer; matchmaker; head groundskeeper; and fashion-trend forecaster.

© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP. A Time Warner Company ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Is R&D an effective indicator of who will survive long-term?

link to original article.

TechnologyReview.com

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R&D 2005
September 2005

The 2005 edition of the TR R&D Scorecard (pdf) shows that worldwide corporate spending is picking up (Big Spenders), but that the gains are unevenly distributed (Where the Growth Is). The biggest advances are in the life sciences, which also happen to be among the most research-intensive industries (Innovation Sectors): 2004 R&D spending among the biotech companies on the list shot up by an average of 69 percent over the previous year.

The gain at pharmaceutical companies was less spectacular but still a strong 22 percent. IT companies, on the other hand, have as a group barely increased their R&D outlays; telecommunications and computer hardware companies, on average, spent less than in 2003. Spending in telecom remains particularly troubled, with several leading companies, including Motorola, Ericsson, and NTT, reporting double-digit decreases. In IT, however, software remains an exception; Microsoft paced the sector to a 20 percent increase in research spending in 2004.

The scorecard ranks companies by the Technology Review Innovation Index (TR Innovation Index - Top 15), which takes into account R&D spending levels, spending increases, and R&D as a proportion of sales; five of the top 10 companies according to this metric are in life sciences.

But numbers alone don't tell the corporate research story. Another indicator of vibrant R&D is willingness to invest in visionary projects that may not pay off for many years--if ever. In this spirit, we spotlight three "blue sky" research efforts.

Intel's use of lasers to detect biological molecules with exquisite sensitivity could help researchers understand the causes of cancer and other diseases. Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs--which has in the past decade severely curtailed the basic research that once made it such a jewel--is making progress toward the radical concept of quantum computing. And IBM has launched an effort to use supercomputers to model the human brain. These projects provide a heartening counterweight to the common charge that industry is overly fixated on next quarter's results. -- Edited by Herb Brody

IBM
The Computer Brain
By David Talbot

The neocortex constitutes the bulk of the human brain and is the presumed seat of learning, language, memory, and whatever it means to be human. It contains many billions of neurons, and each neuron can interact with nearby neurons in thousands of different ways. The operations of even a single neuron are difficult to measure, and biologists don't agree on how many distinct subclasses of neurons are present in the neocortex, how the six layers of the neocortex interact with one another, and whether the system behaves differently from one part of the neocortex to the next.

"It's a humongous mess," says Michael Beierlein, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School. And when neuroscientists study the electrochemical processes that take place in that mess, "ultimately we just don't know what the crucial features are, and which ones we can safely ignore: what is biological noise, what is important, what is an experimental artifact."

Neuroscientists around the world are trying to decipher the neocortex, because understanding it better could provide insights into everything from psychiatric disorders and brain disease to learning and memory. To that end, many groups are trying to create computer models of how neurons function. A research project launched this year by IBM is the most ambitious such effort ever attempted: the company and Swiss research partners hope to create a functioning 3-D model of a two-millimeter chunk of neocortex containing 60,000 neurons--a unit known as a neocortical column.

The neuron modeling project "is going to be larger than anything done before, by an order of magnitude," says Charles Peck, the computer scientist at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, who heads the project, dubbed "Blue Brain."

The researchers will take raw data collected from rat neurons at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and feed it into an IBM supercomputer that is among the world's fastest. Henry Markram, the Swiss neuroscientist heading the biological end of the project, says a graphical representation of just the 10,000 neurons in a rat neocortical column will require up to two terabytes of storage--roughly the amount of data that can be held in 400 standard recordable DVDs. IBM computer scientists experienced in simulating biological systems will help build a 3-D model that mimics the interactions of these neurons and compare its performance against Markram"s laboratory data.

The job will be vast. "Think of a neuron as a tree, with roots and branches," says Markram. "Imagine if you take 60,000 of these trees and squeeze them in the space of a pinhead. That is the kind of architecture you are looking at, with the roots of trees touching branches of other trees." And that's just for one neocortical column; the human neocortex is estimated to contain tens of millions of them. But if all goes well, "we will be able to see where the information goes, how it is represented, and how it is stored on a tree," Markram says. "Then we can understand what can go wrong." Markram believes the project could yield possible targets for drugs to treat brain diseases in 10 years.

That is certainly ambitious. "The simulation may lead to a better understanding of some of the circuitry," says Tai Sing Lee, a computer scientist and neurophysicist at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint project of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. However, he adds, "Simulating the human brain and curing disease are extremely far away." Viewed against the magnitude of the task, says Lee, IBM's Blue Brain project is worthwhile but "a small step in biology."

Intel
Precision Biology
By Claire Tristram

Ever since James Watson and Francis Crick unveiled their helical model of DNA in 1953, it has been an iconographic symbol of science. But no matter how familiar the structure of DNA becomes, observing the molecular pieces from which it is built remains a tantalizing challenge--and one for which a number of competing technologies are being developed. A tool that consistently offers researchers a way to observe biological processes at the molecular level would be invaluable. In particular, the ability to closely observe the nucleotides that make up DNA, combined with the ongoing work on the human genome, could eventually yield more-powerful methods for diagnosing disease.

At Intel, technologists pursuing better biological imaging have adopted an analytical method widely used in semiconductor R&D. In May, Intel's Precision Biology group published a paper describing its use of Raman spectroscopy to detect single molecules of two of the four nucleotides that make up DNA: deoxyguanosine monophosphate (dGMP) and deoxyadenosine monophosphate (dAMP). While single molecules of dAMP had previously been detected with Raman spectroscopy, dGMP molecules had not. And Intel"s approach greatly improved the consistency with which a Raman effect was detected. "We wanted to push the limits of sensitivity," says Andrew Berlin, lead researcher for the five-year-old group.

Raman spectroscopy takes advantage of the fact that light beams passing through different substances will scatter in different ways, emerging with different sets of characteristic wavelengths. Such patterns can serve as fingerprints for identifying specific compounds. The Raman approach offers advantages over other technologies for single-molecule detection, in that it"s one of the most sensitive techniques available and can also be used to detect molecules in a very dilute solution of water--or potentially in the watery world of a cell. What"s more, the technique provides a way to directly observe molecules without labeling them with fluorescent tags.

One way to intensify the Raman effect is to induce it in close proximity to metal. Berlin"s team, adapting techniques already being used by Intel in its manufacturing processes, first created a layer of silicon that was pocked with nanoscale pores to increase the area of the surface to which molecules could bind. They next coated the silicon with molecules containing silver and deposited a biological sample on the coated surface. The group bombarded the sample with pulses from multiple lasers and, in recent experiments, caused a single nucleotide to emit a signal strong enough to be detected. "We're right in the middle of one of the best labs in the world for optimizing nanoparts, so we could take advantage of all the experience that comes out of our processor research," Berlin says.

The significance of Intel's approach is that it can boost a molecule's signal so dramatically--between 100 and 10,000 times, depending on the molecule being studied--that it will allow observation of single molecules without chemically altering them. "The Intel experiments are the first that demonstrate the great potential of this kind of Raman technique for detecting single molecules," says Eric O. Potma, who is working on similar research at the University of California, Irvine. Also, while fluorescent labeling is used only for taggable molecules, Intel"s research will likely find broader applications. "With single-molecule Raman, we might be able to monitor the details of molecules that have remained invisible to us with fluorescence spectroscopy," says Potma.

The ability to better see how molecules operate could help fulfill a dream cherished by many biologists. "Being able to study single molecules will transform our thinking," says cell biologist Mark Roth of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, which is collaborating with Intel on this project.

Bell Labs
Quantum Computing
By Dan Cho

More than half a century after inventing the transistor--the foundation for modern electronics, computing, and telecommunications--Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs is pursuing another technology that could radically change information technology: quantum computing. Today's transistors continue to get smaller, allowing computer speeds to double every one or two years. But a quantum computer would leap way ahead of that pace. If such a machine is finally built, it will offer the ability to solve certain problems millions of times faster.

A conventional computer stores information as bits, which are represented as 1s and 0s. Quantum computers rely on quantum bits, or qubits, which can hold values of 1, 0, or--and this is the part that defies intuition--some quantum blend of those two values. Another quantum effect known as "entanglement" allows two or more qubits to coordinate their behavior, even when they don"t appear to be interacting.

These strange properties would make qubits extremely powerful tools for attacking certain computing problems, such as factoring large prime numbers in encryption applications and searching huge databases. (Two Bell Labs researchers, Peter Shor and Lov Grover, devised breakthrough quantum algorithms for solving these two problems in the 1990s.)

But creating the hardware that can harness qubits presents a huge challenge. Qubits are encoded as the spins of individual particles like atoms, ions, or photons. These particles must be isolated so that they can"t interact with their surrounding environment, which would ruin the quantum computation. Bell Labs researchers, like several other groups, are pursuing a method for controlling qubits with a device called an ion trap.

Each trap is between a tenth and a hundredth of a millimeter long and has tiny electrodes that can hold an ion in place above it in an electric field, while a laser beam alters the ion's spin. When the computation is complete, the ion is excited by a different laser, causing it to give off photons that can be recorded by a camera to reveal its final state, which represents part of the answer to a problem.

Research groups working with trapped ions have so far produced quantum computations using fewer than 10 qubits. To be of any practical use, though, a quantum computer will require hundreds or thousands of qubits. The qubits might be held in an array of many traps, known as a multiplex system, with connections for shuttling ions back and forth between different regions to prepare them for a computation, read their final states, and even store them in memory.

While most ion traps are currently made of ceramic, Bell Labs is working to design a multiplex system in silicon. Transistors could supply voltage from an external source wherever it"s needed, eventually allowing researchers to position thousands of ion traps on a single chip, says Richart Slusher, head of Bell Labs" quantum computing team. Bell Labs expects to fabricate some of these multiplex traps in the next two years, says Slusher.

The Bell Labs group has "thought about the long-range problem, including how you do all the electronic controls," says David Wineland, head of the Ion Storage group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a leading center of quantum computing research. According to Wineland, the ceramic traps that scientists have been using in current experiments have "obvious limits." But what will ultimately replace them, he says, "is still open for question."

Building ion traps on silicon would allow researchers to take advantage of the semiconductor industry"s decades of working knowledge. David Bishop, Bell Labs" vice president for physical-sciences research, thus believes that all the basic technologies for quantum computing are ready--or that they soon will be. "We don"t see any fundamental show stoppers," says Bishop.

Still, most researchers in the field, including Wineland and Slusher, do not expect a practical quantum computer to appear for at least another decade. Even then, the first machines will be built to solve very specific computing tasks. And while solving just, say, the factoring problem would have profound implications in cryptography, a quantum computer may not be any better than a conventional machine for many of the tasks that a desktop PC routinely handles.

None of this dissuades Bell Labs--which has eliminated much of its fundamental R&D in recent years--from pursuing what is, really, still a basic research project. Part of its motivation is the belief that the hardware research may pay off for Lucent long before quantum computers arrive, yielding advances in areas such as miniaturized lasers and optical components. "What we learn from working in the quantum computing field may someday lead to commercialization," says Bishop, "but more importantly, it also drives discoveries that could improve today"s communications and computing technology."

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Older Navy or Ripened Banana Republic?

Forget about growing old gracefully--it is now all about growing up gracefully.

Still waiting for that Oshkosh B'Gosh store for senior citizens. Until then...

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August 24, 2005

Gap's New Chain Store Aims at the Fashionably Mature Woman

By ERIC WILSON

WEST NYACK, N.Y., Aug. 23 - For the millions of American women over 35 who face the conundrum each morning of a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear, there is little solace to be found at the vast Palisades Center mall here. With nearly 300 stores and more than half of them aimed at teenage consumers, this temple of consumerism in Rockland County, about 25 miles north of Manhattan, is full of clothes, but for women of a certain age, many find little to buy.

"These stores are for skinny little girls," said Irene Giachetti, of New City, N.Y., as she was tugged at by her teenage son on a back-to-school shopping mission. "It's very difficult to find anything for me."

So it is with considerable interest in the retail industry that Gap Inc., the nation's largest chain of clothing stores, chose the Palisades Center to introduce a new chain yesterday aimed at that unwieldy and indefinable category known as grown-ups. These are customers who are past any longing for shrunken polo shirts and low-slung denim styles ubiquitous at youth-oriented stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, yet consider themselves too hip for conservative stores like Ann Taylor or Talbots, and too frugal to pursue the elitist designs that make up that minuscule slice of apparel known as high fashion.

The new chain, Forth & Towne - poetically sandwiched at the mall between branches of Forever 21 and Justice: Just for Girls - is aimed at a market that might be called the new forgotten woman. Even though women of the baby boom, now age 41 to 59, accounted for 39 percent of women's apparel purchases last year, shoppers who are much younger, 11 to 30, enjoy nearly five times the retail options, according to industry figures.

"Retailers have been looking for growth for the past several years, but frankly, they've been looking in all the wrong places," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of the NPD Group, a market research company. "Department stores had given up on this customer to chase after the youth market, and while 40 may be the new 20, these women want to dress differently."

Baby boomers spent $42.7 billion on apparel last year, compared with teenagers who spent $20 billion, Mr. Cohen said.

Sabrina Sanchez, 50, of Orange County, N.Y., who is trim, but not petite, complained that most stores aimed at women her age stocked clothes designed for larger women, based on national size averages. "I find that clothes are either too mature or too youthful, although Ann Taylor Loft might have a few things," she said. "But you don't want to look too matronly."

The new Forth & Towne stores - 4 more will be opened in malls in the Chicago area beginning next week, 5 more in 2006 and 20 in 2007 - represent the first of several retail spin-offs being developed by fashion companies to cater to older customers. Others include an unnamed project from American Eagle Outfitters and the Ruehl stores of Abercrombie & Fitch.

That trend is largely inspired by the success of Chico's, a rare example of a primarily mall-based retailer that has tapped into the boomer market, surpassing $1 billion in sales by catering to mature women with loose, colorful, easy-to-match separates.

Although baby boomers came of age in the Gap jean jackets and khaki pants, which the chain has sold since its founding in 1969, they have drifted away from the brand as they have aged. Susan Benedetto, 47, of Middletown, N.Y., who was shopping at the mall for school supplies at an Apple store for a son in college, said that she had bought only T-shirts from the Gap in recent seasons. "Everything is geared toward younger women," she said.

Gary Muto, a 17-year veteran of Gap, who was named president of the Forth & Towne brand in April, said in an interview that Gap holds 8 percent of the apparel market for shoppers under 35, compared with 3 percent for shoppers over 35. "They have the highest mean income and spend the most on apparel, and they are underserved," Mr. Muto said.

It is a generation that encompasses an expansive range of ages, body types and tastes, with perhaps the only common characteristic being that they are not typically driven by the same impulses as teenage consumers, the live-or-die pursuit of the latest trend. Forth & Towne is described by Gap executives as a destination for all women over 35: working women, soccer moms, grandmothers, suburbanites and city dwellers.

"These women come in all shapes and sizes," Mr. Muto said. "They want stylish clothes that are age appropriate; they want an easy shopping experience"

When research showed Gap executives that women over 35 cannot be easily categorized because of their eclectic tastes and lifestyles, the company came up with the idea of stocking its stores with four different brands, one in each corner, that address different customer profiles.

Career women who might shop at Ann Taylor or Banana Republic will find similar styles at the front of the 8,000-square-foot Forth & Towne, under the label Allegory, including $48 purple and pink merino wool sweaters and structured jackets, skirts and coats. A second label, Vocabulary, is more like Eileen Fisher and Chico's, with forgiving oversized knit sweaters and a chunky knit flecked oatmeal cardigan at $128.

More casual looks hang in the back of the store, under the name Gap Edition, based on the company's sportswear classics, including jeans and $98 cotton rain jackets in purple, pink and khaki. Prize, the trendiest label, includes a pleated black satin skirt with a grosgrain ribbon waistband, $78, several satin flounce skirts, an $88 plum velvet blazer and a range of lace-trimmed transparent tops.

Austyn Zung, senior vice president for design at Forth & Towne, who formerly worked for Oscar de la Renta, said that her target customers were so varied that she designed for different tastes, but with a common fit. Forth & Towne's biggest innovation is to scale its sizing based on a fit model who is a size 10, rather than the industry standard of 8. Its sizes range from 2 to 20, whereas Gap stocks only to size 16.

Margaret Mager, a managing director of Goldman Sachs, who toured the prototype store Tuesday during previews for retail analysts and the press, and is also a member of its target audience, said she was pleased with the selections.

"It is like four stores in one," Ms. Mager said. "Instead of trying to target too narrow a customer, what they've done is develop a store that has four different ideas that can work for any one customer, because no one is that narrow in what their needs are. "

Banc of America Securities issued a research report describing the Forth & Towne concept as novel, "but perhaps uneven."

"We think the collections are a little hit and miss and are likely to take a while to work out the kinks," the report continued. "Also, with 90 percent of the price points under $100 - in a store that includes outerwear and blazers - not everything may offer the quality the shopper expects."

Analysts also said that because of the slow introduction of the Gap's latest brand - in addition to Gap stores, the company owns Banana Republic and Old Navy - Forth & Towne will have little impact on the company's stock, which has fallen about 7 percent this year.

And as an indication of the degree of skepticism that some members of its target audience hold for the company's approach to mature consumers, a blogger in Chicago noted on April 21, the day Gap disclosed the name of its new chain, that Forth & Towne could be called F.A.T. for short.

"Let people think what they think," Mr. Muto said. "We believe we have an exciting, unique concept these women haven't seen before."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

A second chance to make a second impression.

The question now becomes...now that people know that this book is the one that changed its cover, will they become more interested in reading it, not because of the new cover, but because of the knowledge that it changed?

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August 24, 2005

Book Misjudged by Its Cover Gets (What Else?) New Cover

By EDWARD WYATT

More than anyone else, publishers know that a book is all too often judged by its cover. Sometimes that judgment is deadly.

Among the hundreds of books pressed into the hands of bookstore owners, reporters and other buzz-makers at the Book Expo America convention in New York in June was one with a garishly illustrated blaze-orange cover depicting a shirtless, Conan the Barbarian-type warrior standing atop a mountain peak, a shield in one hand and a forked branch lofted, spearlike, in the other.

It was an arresting image, all the more so because the book, "The Diviners," was not a Gothic adventure tale or a Wagnerian historical fantasy, but rather a novel by Rick Moody, the literary author known for his meditative, interior prose in books including "The Ice Storm."

The cover produced an immediate buzz, but not the type that Mr. Moody's publisher, Little, Brown & Company, was hoping for.

"I saw a lot of people, particularly women, just turn away from the cover," said Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown. Before long, "I realized we were making a mistake," he continued, adding, "We loved it and the author loved it, too, but it was not communicating the information we wanted about the book."

"The Diviners" will still be published on Sept. 12, but with a new cover. While the illustration of the Conan-like warrior will be included, it will appear as the image on a movie screen inside a crowded theater.

The new tableau is intended to evoke the book's satirical take on Hollywood and the independent film business while still making reference to its central premise: a yet-unwritten script that everyone is lusting over, for an epic-length production that spans the eons from ancient Mongolia to 1970's Las Vegas.

Book covers are occasionally changed based on the response to early copies, but not often. In an industry where publishers are the first to admit that they can rarely tell in advance whether a book will become a best seller, market research seldom extends beyond such seat-of-the-pants inquiries.

Mr. Pietsch says he believes that the new cover will still convey some of the comedy of the novel without turning off the female readers who make up the larger part of Mr. Moody's audience.

"The decision came completely out of the response" at the convention, Mr. Pietsch said. "Particularly the response of women booksellers. The novel is almost entirely peopled by women, women in business and women in the film industry, and it is aimed at women readers. The fact that women were not responding meant that it was a fundamental error."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Monday, August 22, 2005

The delusion of intimacy.

We desperately want to know that we are not alone. And, yet, ultimately, we are.

Written by the co-founder of the legendary Spy.

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THE NEW YORKER MAGAZINE - July 12, 1999

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

Pop trash and celebrity madness are nothing new.

by Kurt Andersen

THE BIG DIFFERENCE between museums of modern art and museums of ancient art is that most of the objects exhibited in the latter were not created as art at all but, rather, as baubles, tools, fetish objects— the eons-old equivalents of Beanie Babies and PalmPilots and Leonardo DiCaprio posters. Only in distant retrospect, millennia later, do the ancient Egyptian game boards and alabaster headrests at the Met, for instance, inspire the sort of reverential, this-is-art hush we grant reflexively to a painting by Rothko or Kiefer.

Now, at the end of the century during which Duchamp and his Pop descendants turned mass-market flotsam into art, the Museum of Modern Art is putting mass-market flotsam on display, American ephemera, unmediated by modern artists’ ironic abracadabra. “Fame After Photography,” which opens this week, consists of publicity photographs, paparazzi pictures, magazine covers, tabloid front pages, movie trailers, TV clips, Web images, and celebritythemed gewgaws. The exhibit will appall many people—MOMA putting the Spice Girls on the cover of its monthly bulletin? MOMA exhibiting press photos of Donald Trump chosen by Trump himself? But this is not merely a trendy gesture of the kind that makes conservatives despise the Guggenheim (the motorcycle show) and the Whitney (Yoko Ono). Rather, “Fame After Photography” can be seen as a kind of minor concordance to twentieth-century art, a core sample of the raw materials out of which Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Warhol, and hundreds of other artists have created their work. In 1990, MOMA mounted its “High and Low” show, which displayed the vernacular inspirations for modern art alongside the canonical works. It seems apt that the decade is ending with a MOMA show entirely about Low.

Despite the precedent of “High and Low,” it is a little daring for this essentially conservative institution to put on a show for which it is so starkly unsuited. MOMA has wristwatches and coffeepots and cars in its permanent collection, of course, but those are just sexy expressions of its deep commitment to good taste, as opposed to the aggressively bad taste oozing through “Fame After Photography.” Never before has MOMA officially sanctioned this much fun.

The exhibition space has been designed by Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman, the guest curators, to blast the visitor from an uncrowded anteroom where he can sample the quiet, respectful fame of bygone ages (Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, a bust of Mme. du Barry) slam-bang into a rude, manic, gleefully cheesy Times Square-like museumscape that charts the proliferation and evolution of popular culture: walls plastered with cheap pictures of the celebrated from George Sand to Farrah Fawcett; a vitrine containing a Joe DiMaggio Wheaties box; a video clip of Lucille Ball (as Lucy Ricardo) gawking at William Holden (as William Holden); Whitey Ford with Salvador Dali in a Braniff Airlines TV commercial. It is, as it should be, too much.

The show’s actual Andy artifacts aside (Polaroids from which he created his silk-screened celebrity portraits during the seventies, and screen tests from the sixties, including one of the young Susan Sontag), Warhol is the de-facto godfather of this exhibit, its curator from beyond the grave. It was he who mocked and revelled in the idea of fame with homemade bad-movie “superstars”; he who wrote the most prescient epigram of the second half of the century (“In the future, everyone will be worldfamous for fifteen minutes”); he who created the first high-end magazine, Interview, devoted entirely to celebrities. Unlike Warhol, however, Kismaric and Heiferman care about argument and history. Their big idea is that until the midnineteenth century renown was strictly a function of achievement or noble birth. Photography changed everything, by permitting the publication of “real” (as opposed to painted) portraits of the celebrated. For the first time, celebrity—its acquisition by the few, its contemplation by the masses—became a distinct commodity, an end in itself.

Wandering through this well-organized morass, you come to the reassuring yet depressing conclusion that the debasement of Western civilization did not, in fact, begin with the launch of People magazine, in 1974, or with television, a generation earlier. Instead, you learn that Americans have been celebrity-mad since the moment the daguerreotype was invented. (It probably isn’t a coincidence that “celebrity,” according to the O.E.D., became a generic noun during the eighteen- forties, photography’s first decade.) The MOMA show includes hundreds of mass-produced photographs of the famous from the nineteenth century—tiny trading-card-like pictures and big newsprint pictures, stereopticon pictures and magazine pictures of the Buffalo Bills and the Sarah Bernhardts as well as the Charles Baudelaires and the Friedrich Nietzsches. We may find Bob Dole’s shilling for Viagra unseemly, but in 1928 a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt was used, with her permission, to sell Simmons mattresses. And one is reminded that Anne Frank, a cover girl for Life in 1958 (pictured beside an enlarged fragment of her diary prominently containing the word “Hollywood”), wouldn’t have become the iconic Holocaust martyr if there had been no smiling photograph. Anne Frank and Twiggy, together here, presumably, for the first time. Fashion models are the ultimate photographic creatures, human beings valued exclusively for how they look in photographs. Starting at mid-century, with the designation of “celebrity” models, the dissociation of fame from achievement that had begun in the last century became insanely complete. The culture was finally swallowing its own tail.

PHOTOGRAPHY’S great power derives from the presumption that picturemaking machines, unlike picturemaking artists, cannot lie. This is, of course, a lie. The great stage-managed campaign picture of Nancy Reagan waving at the giant live image of Ronnie in 1984 seems, in this exhibit, as sweetly fascistic as ever.Although Reagan’s handlers refined and exploited such photographic pseudo events as never before (and with much higher stakes than, say, Joan Crawford at home pretending to carve a roast turkey), the show demonstrates that photo ops have existed all century long.

Looking at photographs of famous strangers makes us feel close to those famous strangers in a way that was impossible before photographs existed. So photography has fuelled a long-running democratic hallucination, the delusion of intimacy with the celebrated. This blur now operates in the opposite direction as well, making the authentic look ersatz. The color courtroom picture of Robert Downey, Jr., handcuffed and haggard in an L.A. County Jail jumpsuit, could be a still from a movie. And then there is the white-Bronco chase from 1994, the real-time cinéma-vérité performance of the age.

Given that a majority of the pictures in the MOMA show were staged, the spontaneous images are the timeless and most compelling ones: the shots of John Profumo mid-scandal, J. P. Morgan yelling at reporters, and Lenny Bruce taking a swing at a photographer are like Walker Evans portraits in comparison with the picture of two black children suspended from the biceps of a grinning Hulk Hogan. Like anti-paparazzi photos, pictures of matadors being gored are the money shots in the world of bullfighting, too.

If photography convinces people, at some deep and unspoken level, that they are—almost—personal friends of the famous, photography’s manic offspring, magazines and TV, have pressed Americans’ noses even tighter against the glass. “Person to Person,” the show hosted by Edward R. Murrow in the fifties, marked broadcast journalism’s first big slide down the slippery slope of celebrity fixation. (In the clip that MOMA runs, the singer Julie London tells Murrow that her record company spent more time shooting her album-cover photo than it spent recording the songs.) The most successful new American magazine, In Style, may be the apotheosis of the country’s hundred-and-sixty-yearlong pretend-to-touch-the-celebrity tease. A spinoff of People, the magazine is essentially a how-to manual for regular Americans who want to get the same haircut and wear the same boots, hang the same curtains and eat the same salads as their favorite celebrities—to become celebrities, except for the rich-andfamous part.

Inevitably, and a little disconcertingly, “Fame After Photography” indulges the madness as well as chronicles it. The show’s final image is a blown-up still from “La Dolce Vita”: a pack of life-size paparazzi aiming their huge 1960 cameras at “you.” One wonders, Are the museum visitors poring over the dozens of pictures of Jackie Onassis and Charles Lindbergh having a fundamentally different experience from readers of the National Enquirer? It’s closer to fact than metaphor to consider the stylized celebrity media, the In Styles and Us magazines, as forms of sexless pornography.

Does democracy plus prosperity plus cameras equal . . . this? “Fame After Photography” can be seen as a story of America’s self-expulsion from a pre-photographic Eden. The camera, just a marvellous piece of new technology, was the vehicle for our passage toward the pathological pride and idolatry of our media culture. Today, we’re crazy for another new technological marvel, the Internet. Maybe at a museum show a century from now our great-great-grandchildren will chuckle and cringe at the transformation of culture—who could’ve predicted?— that the Internet has wrought. ©

Sunday, August 21, 2005

At some point - vertical integration?

link to original article.

Free Wi-Fi? Get Ready for GoogleNet.

A trail of hidden clues suggests Google is building its own Internet—and might be looking to let everyone connect for free.

By Om Malik, September 2005 Issue

What if Google (GOOG) wanted to give Wi-Fi access to everyone in America? And what if it had technology capable of targeting advertising to a user’s precise location? The gatekeeper of the world’s information could become one of the globe’s biggest Internet providers and one of its most powerful ad sellers, basically supplanting telecoms in one fell swoop. Sounds crazy, but how might Google go about it?

First it would build a national broadband network -- let's call it the GoogleNet -- massive enough to rival even the country's biggest Internet service providers. Business 2.0 has learned from telecom insiders that Google is already building such a network, though ostensibly for many reasons. For the past year, it has quietly been shopping for miles and miles of "dark," or unused, fiber-optic cable across the country from wholesalers such as New York’s AboveNet. It's also acquiring superfast connections from Cogent Communications and WilTel, among others, between East Coast cities including Atlanta, Miami, and New York. Such large-scale purchases are unprecedented for an Internet company, but Google's timing is impeccable. The rash of telecom bankruptcies has freed up a ton of bargain-priced capacity, which Google needs as it prepares to unleash a flood of new, bandwidth-hungry applications. These offerings could include everything from a digital-video database to on-demand television programming.

An even more compelling reason for Google to build its own network is that it could save the company millions of dollars a month. Here's why: Every time a user performs a search on Google, the data is transmitted over a network owned by an ISP -- say, Comcast (CMCSK) -- which links up with Google's servers via a wholesaler like AboveNet. When AboveNet bridges that gap between Google and Comcast, Google has to pay as much as $60 per megabit per second per month in IP transit fees. As Google adds bandwidth-intensive services, those costs will increase. Big networks owned by the likes of AT&T (T) get around transit fees by striking "peering" arrangements, in which the networks swap traffic and no money is exchanged. By cutting out middlemen like AboveNet, Google could share traffic directly with ISPs to avoid fees.

So once the GoogleNet is built, how would consumers connect for free access? One of the cheapest ways would be for Google to blanket major cities with Wi-Fi, and evidence gathered by Business 2.0 suggests that the company may be trying to do just that. In April it launched a Google-sponsored Wi-Fi hotspot in San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district, built by a local startup called Feeva. Feeva is reportedly readying more free hotspots in California, Florida, New York, and Washington, and it's possible that Google may be involved. Feeva CEO Nitin Shah confirms that the company is working with Google but won't discuss details. Google's interest in Feeva likely stems from the startup's proprietary technology, which can determine the location of every Wi-Fi user and would allow Google to serve up advertising and maps based on real-time data.

So is Google about to offer free Net access to everyone? Characteristically, the company is cryptic about its goal. "We are sponsoring [Feeva] because [it is] trying to make free Wi-Fi available in San Francisco, and this matches Google’s goal to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible," says Google spokesman Nate Taylor. "We don't have anything to add at this point about future plans." To which we speculate: Today San Francisco, tomorrow the world.

©2005 Business 2.0 Media Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

The long in the short of it.

Amazon.com starts selling digital 'shorts'

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon.com Inc. started selling new works of short literature and nonfiction Friday from authors who write them exclusively for the Internet retailer.

It won't be offering printed editions, just digital copies of short stories that can be e-mailed, downloaded or printed from a Web site for 49 cents a pop.

"Publishers have always had a hard time selling and marketing the single, short-form work," author Daniel Wallace said in a statement released by the Seattle-based e-commerce titan. "Amazon.com has created a new way for authors to get that kind of work out there, which is incredibly exciting."

About 60 authors have signed up so far, including novelist Danielle Steel, who writes about her life in a 13-page short titled Candy for the Soul.

The top selling title late Friday afternoon: Harry S. Dent's Bubble After Bubble in The Ongoing Bubble Boom: Oil Bursts, the Housing Bubble Fades and Now Stocks Emerge Into a Greater Bubble that Finally Ends in 2010."

Amazon.com started out as an online bookstore 10 years ago and now sells everything from bird feeders to brake fluid. The new "shorts" range from 2,000 to 10,000 words.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.