Category Archives: Culture

Use Your Marbles: Buy a Beer Company and Learn to Ride a Bike

Normally I would share web sites via Twitter, but I have three to share – totally unrelated to each other except for mangled headline that I just came up with and didn't feel like cobbling together three Tweets.

First of all, if you happen to be looking to own a beer company – or at least part of one – here you go:  Please take note all you Pabst Blue Ribbon fans out there!

I love really clever uses of technology, and this is one of the neatest uses I've seen in a while.  A very simple concept being put to good use to teach kids how to ride bikes: Gyrobike

Last but not least, is this cool new store that is based out of Chicago but that I can see going national very easily, called Marbles.  Keeping an aging population's brain well-tuned is going to be a continuing theme for business everywhere,  and this addresses is directly. 

First Cornhole… Maybe Featherbowling Is Next?

Back in 2007, I wrote about the game "Cornhole"which I had just heard about.  Since then, it has become an ingrained part of our social life – thanks to my discovery, friends of ours created boards that have been used at numerous parties and traveled to several states.   We even had them at our wedding reception!   In addition, I've seen it show up in a lot of other places, not the least of which was seeing some pre-fab boards in the seasonal aisle of Target and Walmart this past summer.  Clearly I was onto something.

Tonight, I was sitting here watching the "Rust Belt" episode of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations.  During the course of the show, he visited Baltimore, Detroit and Buffalo.  While in Detroit, he visited the Cadieux Cafe, where he participated in a game of Feather Bowling

Could this be the next Cornhole?  It requires a bit more work and isn't as portable as Cornhole, but it looks like a blast.  Let me describe it: there is a what looks like a bowling alley in the floor that isn't flat, but rather is rounded, like a half pipe.  At one end is a feather sticking out of the floor – yes, a feather.  At the other end are people holding "balls" that look like squat rounds of cheese – they are rounded, but flat on each end.   Kinda like an over sized Gouda or mini Parmesan cheese wheel.

The object of the game is a bit like bocce or horseshoes: roll the ball towards the feather, and try to be the closest to the feather after all the balls have been thrown.  Like any great, addictive game, it is incredibly simple, easy to understand, but difficult to master.  I now want to travel to Detroit just to give this game a try.  If anyone has ever played it, please let me know if it is as much fun as it looks!  

Is Sweet Tea the Next Hot New Flavor?

I was never a big tea fan – I just didn't care for the taste of it.  Then several years ago, I had the first of several tea-related revelations. 

First, my girlfriend (who would later become my wife) convinced me to have some tea to help clear out a head cold.  I tried it under protest, but to my chagrin, it worked. So I kept drinking it.  Next thing I knew, I found I liked the taste of hot tea.

Next, I tried Swiss Premium's "Southern Brew" sweet tea (now simply called "Sweet Tea" with a little banner that says "Southern Style) while on a business trip.  I suddenly understood why people practically worshiped this beverage.  I've been hooked since.

Now that I had experienced sweet tea, I was on the look out for it, and on another business trip to Birmingham, Alabama I found myself at a local barbecue joint (surprise, surprise) and had some of their freshly brewed sweet tea.  Now, here I was, in the deep south, eating BBQ and drinking sweet tea.  A light shone upon me and there were small angels around me, blowing their little trumpets, announcing the complete and total conversion of me from tea hater to tea lover.

Since then, a little restaurant chain you may have heard of – I believe they are called McDonald's – has introduced their own "sweet tea" available in 32 ounce cups (they use the word "cup" loosely – more like "vat").   You're also seeing sweet tea crop up in more supermarkets, and Arizona's own Southern Style sweet tea show up in more and more convenience stores.   I've even seen a gallon of Arizona's sweet tea on local (New England) Walmart shelves.

To me, flavors don't start crossing over into the mainstream though until you see other categories pick them up.  Example: the only place you ever saw "Pomegranate" was in POM Wonderful's obscenely expensive juices.  Once people caught wind of the health benefits and started to enjoy the flavor, it cropped up everywhere – you can now get gum, vodka, popsicles and candles all with the taste and/or aroma of Pomegranate. 

So it was with great interest that I've seen the introduction of sweet tea-flavored vodkas in the last year or so.   In my book, when you see a flavor of vodka hitting the shelf of your liquor store, it means that flavor is getting big. 

I can see why people enjoy sweet tea: it is probably the closest thing to a sugary soft drink that you can drink and not feel overly guilty about it.  Yes, it has sugar in it, but it is usually made with real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup) and has the benefits of antioxidants from the tea, and no carbonation.  It is sweet, but light and refreshing as well. 

It would seem to be well within the realm of possibility that it is only a matter of months before sweet tea breaks out into the culinary mainstream, similar to how martinis, cupcakes, and whoopie pies have gotten press at various times over the last few years as the "hot new trend."  Just remember that you read it here first!

Cultural Shifts Among Coffee Shops, Newspapers and Shoppers

A few articles related to our everyday culture caught my eye today:

First, a very short article about the widening generation gap when it comes to "buying American."  I will admit that the idea of "Buy American" is a bit foreign (interesting choice of words) to me.  I didn't grow up in a household that was "always buy American" (we usually had a Honda or something in the family to go along with our GM or Ford), so I didn't have that influence growing up.  I remember when Walmart first started to expand nationally and started to come into the Northeast, their big thing was "American-Made Goods."  As that positioning fell away in favor of "always low prices," it is ironic that Walmart's push for lower cost goods is part of what has driven so many companies to switch to overseas manufacturing.  

However, separate fromthat influence, sales of foreign-made goods have obviously been growing for years, to the point where I think those of "generation y" and younger don't really think twice about buying something made in another country.   We don't remember a time when goods made in an Asian country meant something that would fall apart.  In many cases, we now equate it with a higher level of quality than many American-made products.  And when it isn't, we equate it with being cheap enough to just throw out and get a replacement.  When all of the Star Wars toys you played with growing are stamped with "Made in China" on their little plastic feet, you don't really think twice about buying a radio, TV, or car made in Asia. 

In addition, we live in a more globally connected world, one where you can easily speak with someone in China, India or Japan - not just over the phone, but via video conference, Skype, IM, or email.  Someone who is over 55 may remember when the only way of getting to the Far East involved slow moving ocean liners.  Now we can get there in under 24 hours on high speed jets that fly several times a day.  When you can overcome the geographic distance between people so easily, the thought of holding a physical object in your hand from that same country isn't as bewildering.  You don't question the technology that allows you to communicate or visit with them, so why question the fact that you're using a product made in that country? 

The second article is about the banning of laptop computers in coffee shops.  What struck me most about this article is not about the controversy over whether or not these cafes are doing the right thing for their business, but rather the fact that the articles refers to out-of-work professionals shacking up in these cafes so that they can use the wi-fi connections for the things they need to do: look for a job, pay bills, etc.  We've become so strongly connected to the Internetthat we simply can't operate without it.  What do you do when you do all of your on line "life management" using your work's internet connection, and then you suddenly don't have a job?  You're sitting there in limbo with no connection at home and unable to afford one, and in the meantime you've gone "paperless" with every company you do business with.  Where do you go? 

We may be creating a new type of homeless – those who have someplace to live, but no place to connect.  The "wandering netless" we could call them.  Forget tent cities and a 55-gallon drum filled with scrap wood for warmth under the overpass; we may see former professionals huddling around a router, vying for a sliver of bandwidth.   How long until the stories of widespread "hi-jacked WiFi signals" start to appear?  Perhaps it is just a matter of time until the local soup kitchen offers food, winter coats and free WiFi.  I don't mean to sound flip, but rather pose a serious question – as we become more connected (which most would say is a good thing, unless you want to buy American) how do we survive when we can no longer connect?

Last, but not least, and probably not completely unrelated to the above, is this analysis on what is killing the newspaper industry.  I admit that as net-centric as I am, I still love the traditional newspaper, especially the Sunday paper.  I like the tactile sensory experience of it, and the intellectual nature of paging through, browsing the news and feature articles.  With all the newsletters and web sites I read through during the course of a week, I still find new and interesting information in the newspaper whenever I pick it up. 

So basically, I have a soft spot for the traditional newspaper, and it makes me sad to think of it dying the slow, painful death that it is going through right now.   I agree with the analysis, even if I never thought about it in the way it is described: newspapers weren't in the business of delivering news – they were in the business of delivering ads right to the doorsteps and into the living rooms of their customers. 

As time and technology marched on, far more efficient and specialized ways have replaced that expertise, and in response, newspapers dug in their heels, and shed off some of the thing that made them unique in the first place.   They were able to keep making money by cutting costs and consolidating, but didn't keep their eye on the long game. 

I don't think the analysis offers up a lot of useful advice on turning things around, but I hope that someone out there reads it and figure out a way to save an industry that can be important… especially when you are carrying around your Japanese-manufactured laptop and can't find a place to get on the internet for the latest news!

Reflections on the Passing of Pop Royalty

I felt compelled to write something about the passing of Michael Jackson – after all, the name of this blog is "Pop Culture Gangster" and Michael was the "King of Pop."  However, since there has been about ten million articles and blogs already written on the topic, I knew I couldn't add much to the stories written about his accomplishments, his contributions to music and dance, and the tragic figure that he had become in what turned out to be the last years of his career and life.

What did intrigue me was the sheer volume of articles, stories, and overall outpouring of feelings about Michael Jackson as both an artist and a cultural icon.  I don't personally remember the passing away of John Lennon or Elvis Presley, so I really don't have a reference point for something like this – an artist who has global appeal and influence being taken away from their fans earlier than anyone would have thought. 

It made me wonder who else in the world of music might have such a big cultural impact with their passing – who else might get a slew of schedule-shifting television specials put together and broadcast within 48 hours of their death? 

As I developed a list in my head, I realized that most of the artists who come to mind were… well, older.  Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and/or Keith Richards all immediately come to mind.  Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys may also make the cut (or at least he should).

What's interesting about that list is that none of them had a debut album that came out after the 1975.  It is difficult to think of an artist whose initial recording was released in the last 30 years, endeared themselves to many millions of fans crossing over generations, and have maintained their cultural and artistic relevance.  The only artists that come to mind are Madonna, Prince and U2. 

One could argue that the lack of those major, global arena-packing stars is a sign that popular music's quality peaked sometime in the late 60's – early 70's and has declined since then.   It would make sense that in our hyper-connected world it would be easier for pop stars to become global megastars.  However, I don't think the quality of music has declined and believe that our connected age has ironically made it more difficult for a star to obtain that critical mass for "global domination." 

These two issues are actually intrinsically linked.  There is plenty of good music still being made out there – in fact, in the coming weeks, I hope to share my thoughts on a few artists that I"ve recently discovered which I think are making original, high quality music.  They are also artists who can easily make a respectable living monetarily while staying true to their artistic goals thanks to the new global village.  Big contracts with big record labels selling big numbers of albums isn't the only measure of success any more. 

With all the options available to both artists and fans to distribute and obtain music, it is easier to follow more bands – especially more obscure bands in small genres – that there isn't a need for people to gravitate towards a single band.  That diversity of music is good for music and art – but bad for mega-global superstars. 

The music industry is well aware that every time they lose an artist like Michael Jackson, they not only lose a great musician but a rare breed in today's world: an artist that can move millions of units quickly and easily, and reach across generations and demographics.  It is a great irony that as music has become more liberated, it also means that more people who are interested in the music have access to it, but it results in less people are interested in a singular sound or artist. 

That brings us back to Michael Jackson - an example of pure showmanship and talent that can impress anyone with ears and eyes willing to listen and look.  There is no doubt that he had both – in case you didn't know, he wrote some of his biggest hits himself, including "Bad," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Smooth Criminal" all great pop classics.  He had an ear for an infectious hook, but he also often wrote surprisingly personal lyrics, not just light fluff. 

His influence is so far-reaching, it is difficult to gauge what would happen to him in today's age – would he reach the same levels of fame?  Would he be able to break through the cacophony of artists and genres available in stores and on line? 

The days of the global mega-star are probably numbered – as I said, most of the artists on that list are getting on in years.  Perhaps they will live well into their old age and when they pass there will be much mourning but not shock.  If they are taken away earlier than that, perhaps the world will stand in the solidarity that only comes from the horror of losing someone too soon.

Either way, the passing of Michael Jackson isn't just a loss of a great artist and performer, but is a step closer towards the end of an era in popular music that has existed since the first time Elvis Presley shook his hips on TV, one that could be replaced by a world where artists perform for smaller, more devout audiences.  We may not see a day again anytime soon when we all gather around the TV for a performance like Michael's on the Motown's 25th Anniversary Special, but hopefully we'll be able to gather around the iPod and hear his influence among many artists for many years to come.  

For the Howard Roarks Out There

I'm a bit of an architecture and civil engineering geek.  I can't pass by an article in a magazine or newspaper that is about a cool new building, a major construction project, or a proposed new development.  It doesn't get much more modern and non-traditionalist than this…  Top 10: Architecture of Star Wars.  While the article itself is pretty interesting, I would encourage you to follow some of the links they provide throughout the article, especially if you are a design/architecture geek like me.

Social Networking News

So I have this blog (obviously).  I also have another blog where I review hot wings, and another that I don't attend to that much which tracks my barbecue experiences.  I also have my main domain name, which is simply a holding place for most of my links.   Then of course I have the obligatory Facebook profile, and I even still have a MySpace profile (that no one has done anything with in about eight months thanks to Facebook).  I've got my profile up on, and for more professional-related endeavors, I have my LinkedIn profile, and one on Plaxo, plus a few others that sites have cobbled together for me, with mixed results, which is interesting – social networking that I don't even have to interact with – is that called anti-social networking or social anti-networking? I recently joined on the Twitter bandwagon with an account there, which I find myself using far more than I thought I would.  Part of the reason is because I have it linked in to my Facebook profile, which uses my Tweets to update my status.   I also have my Yelp! account and Digg account linked into my Facebook profile.  Which means my Yelps, Diggs and Tweets are showing up here on this blog and on my Facebook profile. 

If you followed all that, then you should read this article about "Time Saving Social Networking Strategies" which makes me look like a rank amateur.

With all this online networking, it is bound to lead to some off-line meet-ups, and sure enough: Forrester is hosting a "Tweetup" in Boston in July, and there's even a new company dedicated to it called Tweetnetworking.   Do people Twitter about being at a Tweetup?  Do they Twitter while there? 

Remember when the Matrix movies seemed like a real head trip?  The whole alternate reality thing seems kinda tame now that we're in the world of Web 2.0!

Are you “App-Noxious”?

I admit it…  having a "smart phone" I have been known to whip it out in the middle of a conversation to look up some obscure fact, whether it is what movie some random actor was in or which album a deep cut was on. 

Thanks to the iPhone (which I do NOT own) and their Apps, there is now a name for people like me… "app-noxious."  Welcome to the new world where everyone is a know-it-all.. and we can double check our facts!

The Proposal That Will Shake The (comic) World

Back in the day, I was a big Archie comics fan.  I still have a lot of my old issues sitting in plastic sleeves in cardboard comic boxes, including some old issues that I acquired during my comic-collecting heyday that date back to the 50's and 60's. 

Since it dates back to my childhood, there are certain elements of the Archie mythology/lexicon that never change: Archie drives a crappy car, Jughead eats a lot while wearing a strange hat, Reggie is a jerk, and Archie is always torn between Betty and Veronica.

Today, while getting ready for work, I heard a segment on the news that shocked me: Archie comics has announced that Archie is getting married.  I thought it was a funny little segment, but I've already heard more about it than any other news item today.  People are paying attention – not just in comic discussion groups like this one, but check out this on line poll.  Wow.  A lot of discussion going on just because of a comic book character.  I'm also surprised that Betty is winning by such an overwhelming majority.  Perhaps we should take this as an example of our "anti-greed" and "back to simplicity" national temperament?  Or maybe people just think that Veronica is hot, but a bitch… 

My thought is that it won't be Betty OR Veronica.  Since the story is going to be set in the future, it is probably a means by which to introduce a new character and tell her entire back story.  Maybe they will do a "Archie goes to college" type of series.  Or maybe we'll see Archie doing keg stands and hooking up with a strange girl in the alleyway behind a club? 

Confessions of a Frequent Traveler

Because of my job, I find myself on planes on a fairly regular basis – I'm no road warrior, but I travel enough to rack up some frequent flyer miles that I can actually put to use. 

One of my dirty little secrets though is that I don't like to do work on a plane.  Sure, I'll review a presentation or read through something and make a few notes, but when I'm crammed into a plane seat, I really don't feel like doing much more than reading. 

Usually I'll read a book I've brought along, or if it is a longer flight, a stack of magazines I've been meaning to catch up on.   However, every once in a while, when I want a laugh, I pick up the ubiquitous SkyMall catalog.   There always seem to be waves of product categories that crop up from time to time.  A few years ago it was devices for catching/killing bugs – there were vacuums, vacuum attachments, guns that shot nets, electronic devices, etc. etc.  Back in 2006, it was hot dog cookers.

Just when I thought I was alone in enjoying the silliness of the Skymall Catalog, along comes this great blog featuring face-offs of the stupidest SkyMall items.  I'm not sure if the dayclock should have beat the large travel pillow though.  I've never seen anyone actually USE the large travel pillow even though I've seen it in several catalogs and have personally thought that it seems to make sense.  I'd never use it though – I'm afraid that the person next to me would punch me in the throat for just considering blowing it up, which is pretty much what I would to do to anyone who pulled out a large pool toy-like device and started blowing it up for five minutes on a plane.