The Proud Bricks Of Willow Street

IMG_5011German Village is a brick enclave.  Most of the humble bricks that make up the the houses and streets, however, are sadly and utterly anonymous — simple, ruddy red, generic rectangular blocks made of clay and straw, fired in a kiln, with nothing to tell you where they came from or how they got here.

Except on Willow Street.  On Willow Street, between its intersections with Lazelle and Mohawk, the bricks in the roadway are loud and proud. Their places of manufacture are stamped onto their surfaces, telling of companies that once thrived when America was a land of brick, before it became a land of steel and concrete.  Nelsonville Block.  Zanesville Block.  Athens Block.  Peebles, and Metropolitan Block, of Canton, O.  Trimble.

It’s as if the brickmakers and blockmakers knew that their products were going to Willow Street and decided to do something special.  And it is special.IMG_5013

 

Real Irish

IMG_1531It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and in downtown Columbus there is a parade today.  Virtually every American city has one, and many cities — Savannah, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York — lay claim to having the biggest, beeriest, blowout celebration next to Boston.

But what about St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland?  It just so happens that Kish and her sister, the Long Beach Recent Retiree, are there on the Emerald Isle as we speak, kicking out the jams with the residents of Galway and celebrating the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland — or whatever he’s supposed to have done.

The photo above is of the Galway parade, and the gray building in the background is the Lynch Castle (now the branch of a bank) which dates from the 1600s.  The bar scene below is from one of the many pubs that the sisters have decided to visit — purely to get a clinical sense of what an Irish St. Patrick’s Day celebration is like.  Pay no attention to those empty glasses of Guinness and apparent tumblers of whiskey!

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Big Brother Barbie

Mattel has introduced a new Barbie called “Hello Barbie.” Implanted with voice recognition software and a microphone, Hello Barbie records children’s voices, sends them over the web to a server where they are reviewed and analyzed, and then uses that information to develop a response.  Eventually Hello Barbie is supposed to learn and remember names and chat away with kids.  The new doll is designed to get Barbie, which has been declining in popularity with digitally obsessed kids, back into the game.

Privacy advocates aren’t impressed. They call the new doll Eavesdropping Barbie and Creepy Barbie, and question why any parent would want their child’s conversations recorded and sent to a faraway server to be analyzed.  You could imagine how such recordings could be misused if they were intercepted, or the server was hacked, and they ended up in the hands of kidnappers or child molesters.  Privacy advocates also wonder if the doll’s chatter could be used to encourage kids to ask for other Mattel toys.  Mattel, for its part, says it is committed to safety and security.

I wouldn’t want to bring any device into my home that would intentionally record and analyze my children’s conversations — but I also think we have forgotten just how much information our existing electronic devices already collect and analyze information about us.  Our cellphones have apps that track our location and tell us about the nearest restaurants. Our home computers collect cookies that remember the websites we’ve visited and the searches we’ve done and then direct pop-up ads for products to our screens based on that information.  Our cars have satellite radios and GPS systems that follow our daily journeys.  Our home cable and wireless systems are tied into networks that are transparent to call center employees thousands of miles away.  A good rule of thumb is that any “smart” device — whether a phone, or a dishwasher, or a refrigerator, or a car — is collecting and recording information and sending it somewhere, where it probably is maintained on a computer server and being used or sold.

Hello Barbie?  It’s more like Hello Big Brother.  And Big Brother is already here.

-Aire Jordan

The latest Forbes magazine list of billionaires has come out.  Unfortunately, I’m not on it — but Michael Jordan is.  In fact, Forbes determined that Jordan made a mind-boggling $100 million last year to enter the exclusive billionaires’ club.

How did Michael Jordan become a billionaire?  Basically, it’s because he owns a big chunk of an NBA team — his share of the Charlotte Hornets is estimated to have a net value of $500 million — and because he’s got the ultimate brand, even though he’s been retired from the NBA for more than a decade.  Last year he made $100 million from Air Jordan sales.  More than $2.6 billion of his shoes were sold — or more than half of the U.S. basketball shoe market.  Even at Air Jordan prices, that is a lot of shoes.

People often begrudge the wealthy all of the dough they’ve accumulated, but it’s hard to imagine anyone getting too upset about Michael Jordan’s wealth.  He was a great player who built a great reputation and then a brand, and he’s made a lot of savvy decisions for himself since he hung up his own Air Jordans.  In an era when many athletes are breaking the law or frittering away their millions on their “posses” or frivolities, Jordan has been smart — and a guide for other athletes who want to end their playing days with money in the bank and future prospects for more.

It would be good for athletes the world over if more of them wanted to Be Like Mike.

The Starbucks Effect

Often you see news stories that combine odd facts and statistics, and you wonder:  is the story reporting causation, or just correlation?

Consider the so-called “Starbucks Effect.”

If you’ve bought a house recently, you’ve probably used Zillow, a real estate website that provides lots of useful information about houses on the market with just a few keystrokes.    Zillow’s CEO and its chief economist, Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries, wrote a book called Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate that addresses the economics of home buying and home owning and attempts to answer questions that have long bedeviled home owners — like, should I remodel my kitchen, or my bathroom?

One chapter addresses the “Starbucks Effect.”  After crunching the numbers, they found that homes located near a Starbucks appreciated far more than homes located farther away.  From 1997 to 2014, houses in a Starbucks zone increased 96 percent, versus 65 percent for Starbucks-deprived residences.  And the closer to that green sign the better:  in five years, houses within a quarter-mile of a Starbucks went up 21 percent while houses a quarter-mile to a half-mile away increased only 17 percent.  (If you live in one of 20 large American cities, you can track the specific “Starbucks Effect” in your home town here.  Unfortunately, Columbus isn’t one of the 20.)

So, is this quirky statistic reflective of causation, or correlation?  Rascoff and Humphries conclude that a neighborhood Starbucks does drive up home prices, although they’re not sure exactly why.  Perhaps people equate a Starbucks with neighborhoods that are safe, monied, and thriving, or perhaps they really like the convenience of walking only a few blocks for their morning brew, or perhaps a nearby Starbucks makes them feel like urban hipsters.  Others wonder if the statistics are simply showing a correlation, because Starbucks must carefully analyze the economic conditions at potential locations for its stores.  In short, Starbucks isn’t going to try to peddle high-end lattes and frappucinos on Skid Row, and therefore it’s not surprising to see Starbucks ‘hoods outperform others.

It’s a chicken-and-egg type argument:  which came first, rising home prices or the Starbucks?  Some questions are unaswerable, and this is probably one of them.  I’m happy to report that we live very close to a Starbucks, although its presence had nothing to do with our decision to buy our house.  After reading about the “Starbucks Effect,” though, I’m hoping that it never closes.

Non-Emailers

The fallout from Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email address and server rather than an official U.S. government one when she was Secretary of State continues.  Most recently, she announced that she should have used a government email address — no kidding! — but also says she’s deleted emails from that personal server that were private and that the server itself will never be produced if she has anything to say about it. I guess we’ll just have to trust her and her staff to make a complete and thoughtful production.

But enough about Hillary; we’ll no doubt be hearing more from her in the future.  One of the more interesting elements of her email tale is that it has provoked some politicians to step forward and declare that they don’t use email.  South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham says he has never sent an email — which is a bit strange because he is a member of the Senate Internet Policy subcommittee.  Other Senators similarly don’t use email.

Bill Clinton also is a non-emailer.  His spokesman says he’s only sent two emails in his entire life, both while he was President, which means he hasn’t used email for about 15 years.  That’s kind of weird, too, because Hillary Clinton says that one reason she’s not producing the email server she used is that it includes “personal communications from my husband and me.”  How personal communications from a confessed non-emailer made it onto an email server is anybody’s guess, but I’m sure the Clintons will promptly clear up that little inconsistency, too.

It’s hard to imagine not using email at all in the modern world.  I can understand wanting to have some important conversations face to face, where the people involved can react to each other, or concluding that a nice handwritten note about an important occasion is a more meaningful, personal touch than sending a message that ends up in typeface on a glowing computer screen.  But email is now so ubiquitous that complete non-use makes you wonder:  why?  Is it really plausible that these folks never tried to use a new form of technology even once?  Do the non-users think they’re just too important to use a handy communication tool that the rest of us use on a daily basis?  Are they afraid that they are going to say something stupid or intemperate and that it will be preserved for all time?  Are they so clumsy and incapable in their typing — or thumbing — skills that they just refuse out of frustration?

It’s like still using pony express when you could make a telephone call.  It immediately suggests that you are out of touch and out of step with the modern world and the daily lives of most Americans.  Politicians who aren’t using email aren’t violating federal law, but they are violating societal norms.

Dying For A Butt

In Philadelphia yesterday, a woman named Padge-Victoria Windslowe was convicted of third-degree murder.  Her crime was injecting nearly a half gallon of industrial grade silicon, cut with saline in a home blender, into the buttocks of a 20-year-old British woman named Claudia Aderotimi.  Aderotimi’s heart stopped, and she died.

Windslowe, who has no formal medical training, called herself the “Michelangelo of buttocks injections.”   According to Windslowe, she performed underground “body-sculpting” operations on thousands of woman who wanted larger butts or smoother foreheads or plumper cheeks.  The women paid $1,000 to $2,500 for these “treatments.”  Trial testimony said that Windslowe would arrive at hotel rooms and “pumping parties” with a bottle filled with silicon, needles and syringes, and Krazy Glue to close the wounds her injections left.  One of those injections killed Aderotimi.

Medical charlatans are as old as medicine itself, and for every quack who claims to have discovered a magic elixir or a miracle cure there will be desperate people who want to believe and are willing to drink, eat, or do just about anything in furtherance of their belief.  And Windslowe was not alone; news reports say that black-market buttocks injections are becoming more popular, and they are causing other health problems, including infections, disfigurement, liver and kidney problems, and the death of a woman in Texas.

It’s tremendously sad, isn’t it?  Can it really be that so many women have such devastating body image issues that they would willingly travel to anonymous hotel rooms and pay thousands of dollars for injections of unknown substances by unknown people armed with needles, quarts of silicon and other materials, and Krazy Glue?  Since when did having a bigger butt become worth those kinds of absurd risks?