free markets, free culture

Archive for March 2009

A touch of humanity: the cult of the “handmade”

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Artisan cheese

Happy, factory cheese

Happy, factory cheese

In a time before Twitter and Facebook, there was… cheese.
Old-fashioned, hand-made cheese, long before factories could produce “cheese products” packaged in aerosol cans and individually-wrapped cellophane packets.

Industry trade mag Dairy Field reports that artisan cheesemakers are responding to evolving consumer desires — a subtle rejection of factory-produced goods:

Cheesemaker Valerie Thomas of Winchester, CA-based Winchester Cheese Co., cites other factors — most notably an innate, often unspoken, desire to return to a simpler time, before wireless phones and Blackberries.

“The time is right for artisan cheese makers to be successful because the general population is receptive to remembering when things were made by hand,” Thomas says.

So have an artisan cheese, wash it down with an artisan beer, while you lounge in your artisan socks, knitted by a collective of Swiss grandmothers who create and sell on-demand knitwear on the web.

The tailored suit: the measure of a man

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives

Actor Ryan Gosling arrives

A tailored suit signals your arrival. A bespoke tailoring for a man is the equivalent of women’s haute couture (French, “high sewing,” “high dressmaking”).

The word “bespoke” describes this industry of made-to-measure fittings, where the end user receives a product that is highly specialized, not mass market. Today, bespoke industries are popping up around cars, shoes, software, even financial products.

But in this economy, tailored suits and custom cars aren’t as accessible as the the bespoke sandwich.

City Sub sandwiches

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

City Sub #19: Ham, Salami, Provolone

Forget Subway, enter bespoke sandwichmaker City Sub. Once you have the latter, it’s hard to go back to the former.

City Sub’s tailored sandwiches — using quality ingredients and a methodical layering process — can “restore your faith in American craftsmanship.” That’s according to Gene B., a reviewer of City Sub on the website Yelp.

I’m not sure how old Gene B. is, but he sure misses that old-time sandwich-making process. In a post-factory age, we’re nostalgic for things still made by human hands.

“Watching the staff quietly and efficiently turn all those crazy orders into beautifully rendered sandwiches is a glimpse into the past, and what Old New York used to be.”


Written by @hellopanelo

March 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm

The next Big Idea — the insaner, the better

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What’s a meta for?

Metaphor has scandalized philosophers, including both scholastics and semiotics, because it seems to be wrong: It asserts an identity between two different things. And it is wrongest when it is most beautiful.

– Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle

Like the artist with collage, the author who arranges a metaphor has to ask — will it blend? That is, will the two disparate concepts come together and create a metaphor of new meaning?

Shakespeare says the world’s a stage. Life, to Forrest Gump, is a box of chocolates. A dream deferred, says Langston Hughes, is a raisin in the sun.

Creating and marketing nonsensical products

Big Think Strategy — a book from marketing maven Berndt Schmitt — continues this line of reasoning. What are the seemingly unrelated ideas we can pull together to inject new life and meaning to a brand?

Schmitt likes to rip up magazines to mix the metaphors.

The Big Idea is a card game you can play for the same effect:


Game theory + chaos theory = idea generation

The deck of cards features nouns and adjectives. Mix and match the cards, then try to market and pitch the resulting wacky products — Erotic Chowder, Mentholated Shampoo.

Sumana H. — intrepid marketer when she wants to be, and a previous interviewee — brought my attention to this game, by way of her pitched ads for these nonsensical products:

  • Edible High-Priority Chowder, to cure anxiety of choice at the salad bar
  • Herbal Natural Chainsaw, strong enough for a logger but made for a hippie
  • Networked Beer, to ensure you never feel like you’re drinking alone [Ed. note: Isn’t that what meetups are for?]

Cheapass Games, the cheeky manufacturers of this boardgame, challenge your marketing wits: “Do you think you’re the marketing whiz who can talk the public into a Perforated Kilt? Then you’re ready to play The Big Idea!”

[Note: Cheapass Games is an indie-nomics enterprise on its own, noting that most games are overpriced and generic. Dice, pencils, plastic parts — “these generic bits and pieces can account for as much as 75% of a game’s production cost, and that cost gets handed to you.”]

Not just a game: wacky product/service combos in real life

These (seemingly) nonsensical products — and services — are the wave of the entrepreneurial future folks! Just scroll through the list at, a running tally of new business ideas just ridiculous enough to work.

Like this, my current favorite — a mashup of current obsessions:


Written by @hellopanelo

March 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Like-Minded Studio presents… Amanda Conley

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Logo from creative firm Like Minded Studio (TM)

Logo from creative firm Like Minded Studio (TM)

At last month’s Creative Commons salon, I met Amanda Conley — self-professed radical feminist and lawyer-to-be at NYU Law. Amanda brings an interesting legal perspective to the “free culture” debates. After all, the very notion of “property” — physical or intellectual — is grounded in complex histories of common law. Amanda is also a privacy law researcher for an NSF-funded grant on digitized court documents.

We sat down for $3 pints at Commonwealth Bar in Park Slope and talked about culture, copyright, and — dun-dun! — the law.


Me: Good puppy! What’s your dog’s name?

Amanda: This is Gus. He’s a Tibetan terrier. It’s a misnomer though, they’re not truly terriers. I’ll let him explore. [Gus wanders, unleashed.]

Me: So you’re a rebellious lawyer!

Amanda: Well, I recently attended Reblaw 2009 at Yale, a conference for rebellious lawyers and social change. It made me realize I don’t want to be an activist. I want to be the person asking different questions about using the legal system to achieve different ends. What you learn in law school is that the way you frame your question is everything.

Me: I internet-stalked you and saw you were a fan of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Amanda: It’s not stalking if I post the information publicly to the internet. Yes, the EFF attracts laywers who aren’t in a corporate gig. It’s law for the people. There is this annoying dichotomy in law school that you are either corporate or public interest. I prefer to sidestep the binary.

Me: You were at an event at NYU’s Public Interest Law Center, where you got a chance to hear Fred von Lohmann speak — the senior staff attorney at EFF, specializing in intellectual property matters.

Amanda: Yes, Fred went from women’s interests to IP law, back in the 90’s when the internet was young. He’s interested in both gender and the law. There are more women lawyers now and they’re more into theory. Fred talked to us about his conversion moment, when he decided “I want to be a public interest copyright lawyer.”

[Ed. note: Fred attributes this moment to reading the 1994 Wired article “The Economy of Ideas”, by John Perry Barlow, the Thomas Jefferson of cyberspace.]

Me: Why do you think feminist scholars are attracted to intellectual property law?

Amanda: IP law is all about theory, and theoretical questions. In IP law, the questions are like “What is a person’s identity?”

Me: It’s like an intellectual challenge, or philosophy.

Amanda: There was this interesting case where the International News Service was taking news from the AP wire and publishing it first. The questions that come from that are “Is news copyrightable? When does news have value?” News is something that has value the moment it is shared and, upon sharing, loses value.

Me: How else do you intersect with copyright or privacy issues in law school?

Amanda: I’m also doing research in privacy law and court documents that are public on the internet.

Me: Like the sex offenders registry maps online?

Amanda: Right. For example, divorce documents are becoming more public in higher courts. Nothing’s redacted. But there’s a big difference between looking up something on the internet, versus physically walking down to the courthouse. The internet is creating in-depth profiles of people. But people are supposed to know the law and have access to judicial information. In that sense, we should make things available to the public.

Me: What was your favorite part of the Creative Commons salon?

Amanda: I really liked Thingiverse. I loved the idea of “What if every object was shareable?”

[Ed. note: Thingiverse is a website where people can upload digital designs for physical objects — kind of like architect blueprints for buildings. Anyone can upload a design, and anyone else can create the object, or modify it and make it better. In an ideal Thingiverse universe, every physical object — like the chair you are sitting on — would have a URL, and anyone could look up the design of that chair, and create it, or improve on the design so others could have a better chair.]

Amanda: Sometimes it’s easy to poo-poo the internet and say “Why would anyone want to build a plastic rocket? We want to build things for a useful future!” But what Thingiverse does is make more concrete the value of building on other’s work, instead of starting fresh. The internet shows there are lots of smart people out there. It illustrates the power of working together.

Written by @hellopanelo

March 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Collage, and the art of marketing strategy

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illus. by Cristiana Coucerio


Collage: arranging disparate scraps into a meaningful whole.

In the hands of an artist, collage can be an artful blend of figure, type, annotation.

In the hands of Bernd Schmitt, collage can be a strategic business tool.

Schmitt — professor at Columbia’s B-School, director of its Center on Global Brand Leadership and, consequentially, Matt’s boss’s boss — sees collage as a tool that helps managers “encourage unusual connections in the brain.”

Combining the (seemingly) incompatible

Here’s an exercise Schmitt likes: rip up magazines and create a visual board of brands and business trends. Now, pair the two randomly.

Say you have a Coca-cola ad, and an article on the green movement. How would you design a campaign strategy around this combination? What are the challenges and advantages to the brand’s positioning?

“It is key to pair concepts that seem incompatible because they stretch people’s imagination and facilitate the formation of unusual connections.”

To read Schmitt’s full explanation of the collage exercise, search for the term in his book Big Think Strategy (2007).

Written by @hellopanelo

March 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Benjamin Franklin takes on: remix culture

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I’m reading Ben Franklin’s biography in fits and starts. It’s slowly dawning on me how much of American culture this man predicated over 200 years ago. I always thought Founding Father types were distant, unrelatable, irrelevant to the multicultural modern American life as I knew it.

I love being proven wrong though — opens the mind to new possibilities — and this book is doing it.

The Almanack: precursor to the general-interest mag

Ben was a liberal borrower. I’m positive he would have joined his local chapter of “Creative Commons” had it existed back in the day or, more likely, he would have started the group himself.

Under the pen names “Poor Richard” or “Richard Saunders”, Ben published Poor Richard’s Almanack in the 1730’s. It was like a general-interest magazine, containing a miscellany of information every early colonialist would need: “lunations, eclipses, planets motions and aspects, weather, sun and moon’s rising and setting”… and, it’s strong suit, jokes, witticisms and clever aphorisms.

Think of it as an early-day Reader’s Digest or Saturday Evening Post, modern-day incarnations of this folksy Americana vernacular. (For you history buffs, Ben Franklin’s 1728 Pennsylvania Gazette paper became known as The Saturday Evening Post by 1821.)

Proverbs 2.0: borrow, recycle, repeat

What survives from Poor Richard today are the proverbs — the moral sayings that have become cliche: “Haste makes waste” or “Gold helps them that help themselves.”

In Ben’s biography, Walter Isaacson notes:

Most of Poor Richard’s saying were not, in fact, totally original, as Franklin freely admitted. “They contained the wisdom of many ages and nations,” he said in his autobiography, and he noted in the final edition “that not a tenth part of the wisdom was my own.” Even a near version of his “early to bed and early to rise” maxim had appeared in a collection of English proverbs a centurly earlier.”

Ben was a complete and unabashed remixer!…. of proverbs.

“Franklin’s talent,” Isaacson notes, “was inventing a few new maxims and polishing up a lot of older ones to make them pithier.”

Remix session: Old English proverbs edition

[The glass armonica was one of several musical instruments Franklin invented — and recreated in this modern-day scene by two jolly folks from The Black Horse Inn in Flourtown, PA.]

Old English version:

  • “Fresh fish and new-come guests smell, but they are three days old.”
  • “Three may keep a secret if two of them are away.”
  • “A muffled cat is no good mouser.”

Philly dub-style remix, feat. Benjamin “B. Frank” Franklin:

  • “Fish and visitors stink in three days.”
  • “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
  • “The cat in gloves catches no mice.”

21st century remixes?

  • “Stick the houseguests at the HoJo
  • Stop Snitchin’
  • … and I’m still trying to figure out the cat in gloves reference

Written by @hellopanelo

March 22, 2009 at 9:51 am

Mood-altering “motivationals” — kitten posters, possibility books, and physical talismans

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In his book Snoop, psychologist Sam Gosling says we keep some stuff around to assert our identities (brand-name goods, affiliation markers), but other stuff we own to regulate our moods.

Sound familiar? What are all the things we surround ourselves with, to subtly or obviously motivate us towards goals?

Successories is a company that has seized this market for “visual motivation.” (I like to think they got their start from that inspirational “Hang in There” kitten poster from the 70’s.) You’ve seen the Successories posters before — a majestic bald eagle accompanies a pithy statement on “Excellence”, or a crew team rowing in early dawn exemplifies some proverb on “Teamwork.” The imagery and language of Successories is ripe for parody, not lost on, whose line of Demotivators posters are committed to “Increasing Success by Lowering Expectations.”

Successories is cheesy because it’s manufactured and corporate-minded. What does a DIY approach look like for motivational propaganda?

In the 2005 film Last Holiday, Queen Latifah keeps a “Possibilities Book” — a scrapbook of magazine clippings and handwritten notes of her dreams for the future. When she finds out she has a terminal illness, she sets out to fulfill every dream in her possibilities book (which apparently involves going to chef Gérard Depardieu’s hotel chalet restaurant in Prague.)

In the web 2.0 world, a possibilities book could be something like, a site that “makes your life a list.” You put you goals down, 43 things you want to do before you die, and get encouragement from others and presumably the motivation that comes from just expressing a specific ambition.

dollar1Sometimes the things you carry, literally, are an expression of your ambition. A young Jim Carey — way before his big break, working the stand-up comedy circuit in L.A. — once wrote himself a post-dated check for $10 million and carried that around as a tangible reminder of his goals.

But back to web 2.0 and the DIY approach.

Why not make your own visually motivating posters? After all, only you know what gets you out of bed in the morning. For these people, it’s simple: Make Something Cool Every Day. For Jeffre Jackson, blogger at Pink Air and inspiration for this post, he’s created his own nifty set of DIY motivation collages…


Written by @hellopanelo

March 21, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Events roundup

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Spring (er.. snow… for the New Yorkers) is in the air…. it’s open season on open conferences!

1. Open Everything NYC

April 18, UNICEF House @UN

True to it’s “open” nature — and much like an unconference — this event is pretty much unplanned and up to the attendees. I’m a little skeptic of how productive these sessions are, so I’ll check it out, especially since the United Nations is sponsoring and hosting. What does the UN have to do with free culture and the open source movement? This statement from the website gives me a clue…

Let there be no confusion, Open Everything is not a tech conference. There is much more to ‘open’ than technology, part of the goal of the event is to bring the less known aspects of ‘open’ to the attention of the general public.

2. Open Video Conference NYC

June 19-20 @NYU Law School

Okay, it’s a conference at a law school, so all the big conversations will revolve around legal and cultural dimensions of online video.

However, this indie-nomics minded gal is interested in the “secondary programming” on DIY video creation and programming. I like to see how people can bring their creative expressions to life with $0 budget and a laptop computer.

In Nina Paley’s case, it took her 5 years but she created something that may not have existed had it gone through normal film studio production barriers: Sita Sings the Blues is an animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana… and set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw.


“Dear Audience,
I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.”
– Nina Paley

3. Ultra Light Startups: Monetizing Online Video

April 2 @For Your Imagination

Exactly what the title says. If you’d rather get straight to the $$$ and skip the philosophical discussions about free culture, this is your event!


* How to most effectively monetize online video and what revenues to expect.
* What are the most valuable online video properties right now? What content/audience niches are they serving? What are their revenue models? What technology are they using for marketing and distribution?
* What online video ad units are the most effective? Linear (Pre/mid/post-roll) vs. Non-linear (overlays, skins, etc) vs. display ads (alongside an embedded player). Interactive vs. non-interactve ad units.
* What are the most commonly used standards for video metrics. What determines the prices of video advertising and what are the ranges being paid now?
* What are the different video advertising networks and what differentiates them?
* What non-advertising revenue models have been tried for online video? Subscriptions/memberships? Product placement? Affiliate marketing? Live streams? Syndication? Which have been the most successful?
* What are the main video hosting/sharing websites and relative advantages/disadvantages of each for monetization?

Written by @hellopanelo

March 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Posted in DIY, Events, film, storytelling