Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Week Left of Summer School

My final project is an investigative report on how we as consumers can find out what is in the products we use in order to make more educated decisions on what to buy.

Issue: There are a lot of advertisements for “green” and “all natural” products in groceries these days. But how does a shopper know if the products that make these claims are actually good for them and the environment? In recent studies many products labeled “green” found on grocery shelves actually contain harmful substances like preservatives that cause skin irritants and some carcinogens.

Many green websites have a function where you can enter in the product’s name and find out whether it is environmentally safe and healthy to use.

I will tell the story through a dermatologist who is an expert in green and natural products, a professor at an environmental studies program at a University, someone who markets products as being green to understand what the standards they use, and a consumer who had a bad reaction to one of these “green” products. I also will interview one of the founders of a green website to help the reader understand just how many of these products labeled green really aren’t.

The article will also include a sidebar of a list of online resources the consumer can use.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My friend Rachel from Cleveland came to visit Boston.
We drove down to Cape Cod, Plymouth, and shopped around the city.
Here's my photos:

Another Version

Angela Sawyer’s 14x 15 record store is filled wall-to-wall with CDs and vinyl records. Slouching intently over her cash register Sawyer is nonetheless a picture of calm. While most longstanding record chains in Boston have closed in recent months, Weirdo Records is a sudden success.

Since the early rise of e-commerce, record stores have long had the reputation for being outdated. But as retail stores plummet because of the recession, niche market shops can perhaps remain strong due to their loyal market base.

In February - gambling on the hope of cornering the market for the few but cult-like fans of obscure records, CDs, hard-to-find avant, and experimental music - Sawyer decided to launch a hole-in-the wall specialty record shop located next to trendy bars and ethnic restaurants in Central Square. Her clientele is mostly 25-60 year old male music seekers. “So far business has been great,” Sawyer said. “It’s been so busy that I can barely keep up with it.”

For the four months since Weirdo Record opened, sales continue to increase. “The only thing I can complain about is not being able to catch up on sleep. If that’s it, I’m living a pretty satisfying life,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer isn’t concerned about whether music piracy, record stores going under, or the fall of the music industry will affect her business. Just the same, statistics like those released by Almighty Institute of Music (a market firm) aren't encouraging: 3,100 record stores have closed since 2003.

“My niche is so tiny that it is hard for me to be worried about what happened in the record industry", Sawyer said. “It is so far away from me than, say, the White House is from a meter maid.”

Like many record storeowners, Sawyer is extensively knowledgeable. She had worked at local record shops for fifteen years when she decided to dabble with selling records online in 2006. “It was just for fun, it was just two steps over from a My Space page, no big deal,” said Sawyer. In nine months sales from her website were skyrocketing and her career working at somebody else's record store become her secondary source of income.

“The economy started to go to crap,” said Sawyer, “People were like, you got that other thing and you're not here any ways, so …I got let go.”

The selection of merchandise at Weirdo Records is nowhere near that of a Virgin Megastore or Best Buy, but unlike the "radio friendly" inventory within the giant corporate chains, most everything in Weirdo is truly unique. “If you’re curious and want to check out some weird stuff,” says Sawyer while updating her online record website, from industrial noise, "lost" victorola recordings, to modern avant classical, “several [record aesthetes] have spent a long time separating the wheat from the chaff.”

Sasha Clarin, a health care specialist believes Weirdo Record is doing well because it is more personal than shopping for music online. But like many consumers she likes the convenience of shopping at a local store and getting personal attention –something that is lacking at larger franchise record stores.

“The Internet is too big, going online is helpful for finding something specific, but when I need a person to help me figure out and discover the things I should be listening to I come here,” said Clarin, 31, carrying a canvas bag covered in promotional rock band buttons.

Frank Nell, a TV producer in Cambridge, said that even people who can’t afford to shop for new houses in the community could still shop at a local independent record store.

“You can go and buy a dinner out and there goes all your money,” said Nell as he pulled a record off the shelf, “But everyone can afford to spend an extra five bucks on an album that can make them a little happier.”

Sawyer is more than happy to recommend some great music to you. She is currently listening to world psychedelia from the sixties and experimental noise. “There are a lot of regular people who music isn’t a driving force of life, but for some it comes before food,” Sawyer said, “That is what this place is for.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

"How much of Blade Runner has come true?" I'm especially fascinated intrigued frightened by this article.

Kayaking in the Rain

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It seems the outside world can only understand what is happening in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential election through the use of electronic devices. As seen in the tweets of thousands of people protesting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's assumed re-election and through the gory iconic photographs and videos from mobile phones of Neda Agha-Soltan's death, the new symbol of rebellion in Iran. The photograph along side this BBC article is of a protester taking a picture of herself using her cell phone camera to arrange a protest. The article is interesting, but the photo speaks louder to me in understanding the transmission of communication in a muted country.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Evolution of Journalism

"The web has turned us all into content creators, publishers, and influencers. Social media has created a new ecosystem for the distribution and consumption of information. But, there's a problem: that ecosystem is built on a foundation of free content. As ad revenue all but disappears, traditional news and online media organizations are feeling the pain of giving something away for free."- Mediabistro

Last night, I volunteered for a mediabistro event with a panel discussion on the evolution of journalism. Here's a little bit about what was discussed:

Newspapers and magazines are in a lot of trouble. Since the net is free, everyone who is in the new world of journalism will need to learn how to compete with free.

Should content be free?

NY Times is thinking of charging a monthly fee of $5 for use of their website, which will set the standards for other news based websites.

How do websites survive if they are free?

Through advertisements. Advertising is a robust business. Media could learn from the porn industry because at least they know what they are selling.

Or through having fundraisers and paid networking events like NPR.

Twitter is free and an excellent way to advertise. It doesn't have a business model itself, but can be a very useful tool for small businesses.

What can freelancers do on twitter?

Tweets extend whose in your networking view.
Being genuine is important when tweeting.

"Do what you do best and link to the rest"

Be open, link to a story and give a little bit of own perspective.

Tweeting is a powerful way to find sources.

Huffington Post is a great example of a blog that combines aggregated information and original content.

Future Predictions from Panel about Journalism:
Newspapers will be reliant on their digital platforms.
Print will still remain.
News organizations will be far more specialized.
Many sources will be curated through several channels.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Coffin Was Too Confining

With all the vampire craze going on, I thought it would be appropriate to find a story on Anne Rice, known for writing "Interview with a Vampire" amongst other seemingly gothic novels. Her life has changed since the death of her husband of 41 years. After his death, Rice moved out of New Orleans to San Diego. Though, the biggest change is in her writing from blood thirsty vampires to a series of books on the life of Jesus Christ.

This article warrants for being a great example of a feature article. According to Roy Peter Clark a feature story should "illuminate lives lived in our time", "take advantage of expanded set of language and narrative strategies," and have the foundation of being a "human interest" story. This story hits upon all of those points. Here's a link to "The Coffin Was Too Confining," from the New York Times.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spanish Movies

I admit, I'm ignorant to the world of Spanish cinema. I've scratched the surface watching the few movies redone for an American audience, but I've never explored the movies that show the authentic and sometimes darker side of Mexico. I wanted to hear the voices of those less frequently heard.

Last weekend, I was at the beach with my friend Evan. His wife, Liliana is a native of Tijuana. She wrote a list of her favorite movies. I watched a couple of films to see what influenced her while growing up. Needless to say, I understand a little bit of what I've been missing.

Liliana's List

1. Todo sobre mi madre
2. Lucia y el sexo
3. El espiazo del diablo
4. Entre los piernas
5. Huevos de oro
6. Kika
7. La mala educacion
8. Hable con ella
9. Tacones lejanos
10. Martin "H"
11. Todo el peder
12. Atame
13. Los amantes del circulo polar
14. Como aqua para chocolate

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nikola Tesla

It's his birthday. In the most unassuming neighborhood of Belgrade lies a gem of a museum filled with Nikola Tesla's discoveries. Reconstructing his experiments with electromagnetism must have been a difficult task, but the folks at this museum have done a job well done.

Sitting in the back of museum, is a golden urn the size of a bowling ball. How did they get his ashes in there? Much respect to Tesla for leaving us with a mystery from the grave.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Betty Cini lost her sheepdog, Angie, on the Fourth of July ten years ago. “We were outside and she was with us. Some of the neighbors shot off fireworks and she took off running and we never saw her again,” Cini said. “My beautiful little sheepdog, she was a great dog.”

Fireworks are a staple to most Fourth of July celebrations, but some dogs are sensitive to noises and can respond with fear to sounds such as thunder or fireworks. Loud, unfamiliar noises can cause panic, which can lead to serious injuries.

More dogs run away on Fourth of July than any other time of the year.

“Dogs are individuals and have individual reactions to noises,” said Dr. Julia Albright from the animal behavioral clinic at Cornell University. “Some dogs seem completely unaffected, whereas others, the slightest pin drop sends them into a tail spin.”

The anxiety caused by fireworks is acutely physical. Several studies have indicated that dogs may respond mildly to loud noises with symptoms like excessive panting, barking, drooling and trembling. More severe responses include destroying drywall, damaging windows, and other destructive ways to find routes of escape.

“My dog is especially sensitive to fireworks,” said dog owner, Ashley Gerrison, 27, a sales associate from San Francisco. “He gets really clingy and this is even when the fireworks are from miles down the road.”

According to animal behavioral experts, dogs can hear ten times better than humans. However, anxiety doesn’t have to be caused by loud noises. “I once treated a dog for thunderstorm and noise phobia who had never shown anxiety until a tree fell on the family house during a storm,” said Dr. Albright.

Dr. Ilana Reisner, assistant professor of behavioral medicine, at The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine Dogs said that some dogs appear to develop a worsening fear over time that eventually is characterized as a phobia.

A study of thirty dogs that showed signs of fear in response to fireworks came out of Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare Group, University of Lincoln in England. G. Sheppard, One of the leading researchers in the study wanted to see if an appealing dog pheromone would alleviate their fear of loud noises. The owners said that their dogs showed significant improvements in most behavioral signs of fear. Although this is an effective way of dealing with fear, the FDA has not approved it for sale in the United States.

There are some precautions owners can follow to keep dogs safe. “Having a good solid fence at least five feet tall will decrease the probability of the dog escaping during a panic attack,” said Dr. Albright. “As veterinary behaviorists, we use medications and behavior modification to decrease noise and thunderstorm phobia.”

"Together with the right precautions and treatment," Dr. Albright said, “the dogs will learn how to stay in the situation and not let anxiety overtake them."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Mad Ones

I've been away the last two weekends and now I could use some me time. I find little can be as fulfilling as getting lost in a new book. With school and work, late hours offer prime reading time. I read for an escape, relishing the stories of others; the life of revolutionary mobsters living in Brooklyn is my new fit.

The Mad Ones explores low level mafiosos the Gallo brothers serving their Don while being inspired by the counterculture of Greenwich Village.

Here's a clip of the author Tom Folsom:
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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Left-handed people have long put up with the challenges presented by a right-handed world, but now a new study has found that left-handed people die younger than their right-handed counterparts.

Researchers from California States University and the University of British Columbia found that right-handed females live six years longer and right-handed males live 11 years longer than left-handed people.

“The results are striking in their magnitude,” said Diane Halpern, a psychology professor at California State University at San Bernardino who was one of the principal researchers.

The study is the first trial large enough to accurately assess why there are fewer left-handed people among the elderly population than right-handed. The research also concluded that left-handed people were four times more likely to die from injuries while driving than right-handers and six times more likely to die from accidents.

“Almost all engineering is geared to the right hand and right foot,” Halpern said. “There are many more car and other accidents among left-handers because of their environment.”

Peg Simmons, 29, a graduate student in English at New York University said, “These are important studies to have out because it might actually make automotive companies make cars more user friendly for left-handers. We will see how the study changes anything.”

For the trial, Diane Halpern and Stanley Coren, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, looked at death certificates of 987 people in two Southern California counties. Relatives of the deceased were queried by mail about the subjects’ dominant hand.

“We knew for years that there weren’t as many old left-handers,” Halpern said. “Researchers thought that was because in the early years of the century, most people born left-handed were forced to change to their right hands. So we thought we were looking at old people who used to be left-handed, but we weren’t. The truth was that there simply weren’t many left-handers left alive, compared to right-handers.”

The study was conducted last year and appears in last Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

"Some of my best friends are left-handed,” Although previous left-handed studies have been conducted on whether there was a gene that determined what hand a baby would be born with, the results of these studies have produced mixed results. “It’s important that mothers of left-handed children not be alarmed and not try to change which hand a child uses,” she said, “There are many, many old left-handed people.”

For some, being left-handed isn’t a problem. Josh Freeland, 28, a left-handed trader from New York City said “Outside of not being able to find left-handed baseball gloves and having to reverse notebooks around, I can't think of too many problems that I've encountered.”

Left-handed women die around age 72; right-handed women die around age 78. Left-handed men die about age 62, right-handed men die about age 73. Halpern said her study should be interpreted cautiously. “It should not, of course, be used to predict the life span of any one individual. It does not take into account the fitness of any individual.”

“Being a lefty really does not worry me. I eat right, exercise, and I am an alert driver,” said Simon Rodriquez, 28, a San Francisco based freelance writer, “There are far worse things to be than left handed. I’m glad that’s all that is wrong with me.”