Saturday, February 24, 2018

Bits and Pieces

Every couple of days I find myself jotting down a note about a topic for this space. Might be something I see in a newspaper, a idea passed on from an acquaintance or a random thought I wake up with at 2AM and scribble on a piece of paper. Unfortunately, those last ones don't always work out. I go back to sleep confident I have an exceptional idea, only to wake up and read "Why are wsjkjsi found in the PSAep? Woot!" 

Fortunately, even after I factor out those attempts, there is still plenty of grist for the mill. Too much, in fact: at last check my file contained 363 items to muse over. Included are lots of ideas that either don't warrant the full treatment, or once I dig into them turn out to be shallower than first thought. That doesn't make them of less interest, just harder to spin into a full sweater. And so in the spirit of Andy Rooney ("Did ya ever think about electrical outlets?"), following are some short takes that might make better tweets than blogs. 

I understand that the world is a busy place. But every time I flip past a news channel there is a graphic up that says "Breaking News." Now, I understand that something is always happening somewhere, just like it's always time for a drink somewhere. However, news by definition is "new," so it's always breaking. So you can't have it both ways: all news is breaking, or none of it is. And if it all is, why have a graphic for only some of it? OK, I'm done. 

Name a cause or an idea or a thing, and there's bound to be an organization of like-minded individuals to support it. Planned Parenthood. Make-a-Wish Foundation. The International Star Trek Fan Association. If you create it, they will join. And while it may not be your thing, it is somebody's. Still, I'm not sure about the Vitamin D Council. This registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization "educates patients, families, doctors and health professionals on vitamin D and safe, sensible sun exposure to improve the quality and longevity of lives." Good, I guess. One can only imagine their yearly confab, with lots of milk and sunscreen. 

I understand (at least I think I do) how some people like to live out loud on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. And if that's your thing, enjoy. As for me, I'm more stalker than poster, occasionally perusing the services to see pictures of kids or vacations or something you've baked. But stick to your orbit. Yes, Prince Harry and soon-to-be Duchess Meghan are all the rage. But why post "Congrats to the happy couple!" as if you are in any way connected? Unless you're expecting an invite from Buckingham palace, stick with congratulating your Aunt Jennifer on finishing 5th in her age group at the Woodland Hills 5K. 

Not everything new has a plug on it. But that doesn't mean it's not hitech. Take NewBrick, "the biggest innovation in brick." Not really brick, but a hard-cell foam base with a wire mesh cover and a ceramic finish, each unit looks like a traditional clay brick, but with more durability and less weight. That means architects can get the look they want, contractors can install more faster, and end users pay less. As of this writing, no word whether Apple is creating an iBrick.

A while back I had a bout of dizziness. A visit to the doctor ruled out anything serious, and I've learned not to put my head below my waist. When the insurance form came through, it had a diagnosis code of R42. That turns out to refer to a balance disorder. But while the technical description was "vertigo" the notes described it as "accompanied by feelings of giddiness." And the definition of "giddiness" is "a state of excitable frivolity." As my head was spinning, I can assure you there was no frivolity in play. 

Those are just some of the tidbits in the vault. Even after putting a check mark next to each of those, I still count 358 other possibilities, with more coming every day. And so next week join me back here as we look at robot garbage men, DNA Spray or maybe the trends in tattoos. So much to think about, so little time.


Marc Wollin of Bedford keeps finding things to write about. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Coming Coming Attractions

Danny DeVito as a human M&M. A new way to eat Pringles. Avocados without chips. In between clips of the New England Patriots losing (for unless you were from Philadelphia, that was what really mattered, right?), the Super Bowl was merely an excuse for Madison Avenue to show what can be done when you have an unlimited budget, an audience that surpasses any other, and are willing to pay $5 million for a 30-second spot.

All the usual suspects were there. Vehicles (Jeep, Lexus, Toyota), beverages (Coke, Pepsi and several beers) and big name tech (Squarespace, Quicken and Intuit) dominated the between game action, supplemented by ads pushing Turkish Airlines and WeatherTech floor mats. But the category with the greatest number of entrants, counting for about 17% of the total number of spots and $32 million of screen time at rack rates, was that catchall of "Coming Attractions." 

Ads for movies and shows proliferated, with screens big and small represented. From the theatre (Universal and "Skyscraper") to the TV (HBO and "Westworld) to your phone or iPad (Hulu and "Castle Rock"), studios trotted out their fastest editing and most mind bending visuals in an attempt to capture your eyeballs. About the only thing they didn't try was using Martin Luther King's words to promote "Black Panther," leaving that faux pas to Dodge. 

In some cases it makes sense to spend that kind of money on marketing. After all, Amazon's "Jack Ryan" is a new series with no track record. And while it's based on Tom Clancy's character of "The Hunt for Red October" and "Patriot Games" fame, there's a new face (John Krasinski) stepping into a roll previously inhabited by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. In that light, teasing an audience likely made up of at least some fans of CIA adventure movies is probably a smart spend.

In others it seems kind of a waste of funds. After all, is it really necessary to trot out a splashy commercial for franchises that have built-in fan bases that you know will go to see the film regardless of the trailer? If you're a connoisseur of Marvel super heroes, odds are you're going to see "Avengers: Infinity War" regardless of the teaser. Likewise if you were there with Tom Cruise five times before, there's a reasonable chance you'll be heading to see him in "Mission Impossible" number 6 no matter what you saw in the second quarter of the game. 

Then there's the one for "Solo: A Star Wars Story." The second entry in the so-called "Anthology" of stories based on the nine-part George Lucas "Star Wars" saga but not part of that series, it tells the origin story of the Hans Solo character. It will be released on the 41st anniversary of Harrison Ford's first appearance in the original movie, whose full title was "Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope." And yes, if you can't tell a Wookiee from an Ewok, we are already way too deep into this world. 

But then you're not the audience. Folks to whom this movie will appeal not only know those species, but also Jawas, Bathas and Hutts. And so the need to spend $7.5 million (it was a 45 second spot) on promoting it was probably not needed. Even stranger, the commercial wasn't promoting the film itself: it was promoting the trailer for the film. 

If you watched closely, the spot didn't end with the traditional release date for the movie. Rather it ended with the release date for the trailer. It was a Coming Attraction for the Coming Attraction. It recalls an old Saturday Live sketch where a movie audience is held captive for the movie they are seeing ("This is the story of a crazed audience that cannot survive such a vicious onslaught of stupidity. UNLESS they – 'Escape From Escape From New York'"). Or more recently the "shoe shoes" that fashion label Sankuanz created to protect the shoes of the models walking down the runway. 

Some might call it meta, that obsession with things referencing themselves. Others will see it as yet another example of the latest proclamation of the death of irony. Whatever you call it, we've done it to ourselves. Or as essayist Lewis Hyde put it, it is "the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."


Marc Wollin of Bedford didn't really care who was playing. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Brick by Brick

A bubble gum storage locker. 

It sat on the edge of the desk in my room. Every few weeks I would swing by the candy store at the edge of town on my bike, and buy 25 pieces of Bazooka Bubble gum. Hard as a stone, pink as cotton candy, each piece was roughly the size of a matchbook, and enclosed in a comic showing the adventures of Bazooka Joe. Covering each was a printed wax paper wrapper that sealed out nothing except fingerprints. It took several hundred pounds per square inch on that first chew to get it going, a score more to soften it to where every bite wasn't hydraulic, and then a few more to make it truly pliable. Then and only then could you manipulate it enough to blow a bubble. 

But I wax rhapsodic about a tangent: back to the storage locker.  When I got the gum home, I had to have a place to put it. It needed to be a secure space that would also afford easy access. Yes, I know, I know: we're not talking diamonds or cash, we're talking gum. It wasn't as if my mom or dad were going to steal my stash. But to my 8-year old self, it seemed important. And so I turned to the one building system I had that made sense. For security, structure, customizability and utility, only one thing fit the bill: Lego. 

Like many kids, I had a pile of Legos. At that time they were pretty basic: small bricks in varying sizes and colors, but basically squares and rectangles. Using them I cobbled together a hollow red and white stripped model of an Empire State-esque building with a trick side panel that snapped in and out if you knew the right place to push. Inside went my precious chews, safe from the prying hands of my little sister. 

I flashed back to that structure when I saw the Danish company's latest piece-de-rĂ©sistance, a 7,541 piece set which enables you to construct the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars." Creating a model that is nearly a yard long and two feet wide, it is also the most expensive set ever sold at $800. It comes with swappable parts so you can update the ship depending on which chapter of the movie you prefer, as well as minifigures of some of the characters associated with it. Perhaps most importantly, it has a 468-page instruction manual detailing step-by-step directions. By the way, the parts listing contains just 4 red bricks of the kind I used to build my gum bank. 

This set replaces a less detailed one from 2007 which had a mere 5,195 pieces and cost $500. But even that wasn't detailed enough at the time for some. Titans Creations, a group of Singaporean MOCs (My Own Creation) enthusiasts went one step further, and scaled the kit larger so they could show the interior as well. That took 10,000 pieces, and included a place for Luke to practice his lightsaber and a lounge for C3PO and R2D2. No word if they are working on upscaling this version as well. 

But back to our current record breaker. Who would buy such a thing? Well, enough people that it's out of stock: since November, you haven't been able to get it for love nor money. If you just have to build a light-speed jumping space ship, you still have several options. The 2007 set has been discontinued, though it has been spotted on eBay in various vintages. The company also makes a 1329 piece set of the same ship for $149, but it too is sold out. You can get a mini version with just 92 pieces for 10 bucks, but the be warned: the Chewie figure that comes with it stands taller than the ship. So much for scale models. 

This year marks the bricks 60th anniversary, and the 86th anniversary of the brand. It's also the year that the world's Lego minifigure population will surpass the human population of 7.5 billion. So Millennium Falcon or not, it's a force to be reckoned with. As for me, I need a new pencil holder on my desk. And we haven't yet given away the kids stash of bricks. Perhaps a version with a secret panel for erasers? My wife will never figure it out.


Marc Wollin of Bedford used Legos to build speakers for his first crystal radio. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, February 03, 2018


I don't know if this thing works. I don't know if lives up to it's hype. I don't know if it is easy to clean, hard to use or will last more than a week. What I do know is this: it's something new. And not "new" like the iPhone X is new or titanium credit cards are new or thigh-high Ugg boots are new. Those things aren't really new: they're updates to existing products which were "new" back in 2007 and 1999 and 1978 respectively. It's like that Ford commercial, the one when Denis Leary screams at you "Hut hut, gunslinger. This is the new 2018 Ford F-150. It doesn't just raise the bar, pal. It is the bar." Well, he's lying. It was new in 1948. I just would never have the guts to tell him that. 

In fact it's incredibly hard to invent something truly new. More often than not those things die on the vine due to lack of funds or commitment or demand. Kickstarter is filled with great new ideas that go nowhere not because they aren't revolutionary but because they can't get traction. Admittedly not everything there is groundbreaking: current projects looking for funds include a light shaped like a kangaroo and packable instant oatmeal. They can't all be the computer mouse. 

Even folks who have plenty of money and backing don't always get it right. Consider Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Great track record introducing stuff that is definably original like the Echo and the Kindle. But remember the Fire Phone? Nope, no one else does either. And if anyone could have made a go of it, they could. Of course, that wasn't truly new, just another "me too" product. So there is that. 

All of that is background as to why Jane Och's and Sharon Prince's idea is so impressive. Maybe even more so because it's not software or an app or an e-something. It's not a slow this or a fast that or a multi-anything. It's a one trick pony, aimed at that most pedestrian of tasks, keeping food fresh. And not just any food either. In fact, with this weekend being the Super Bowl, those who have it will put it to the test with the stuff that is practically synonymous with tailgating. And no, I'm not getting paid to shill for it, nor do I own one or have even seen it the flesh. I just admire original ideas. Plus, it has a great name: the Guac-Lock

That's "guac" as in guacamole. You may have your own recipe, but it likely includes some combination of squished avocado, lime juice, cilantro, garlic and onion. Making it is easy. Eating it is very easy. But storing it? Ah, that's the hard part. Unless you make a batch and eat it all right away (a very real possibility and not a bad idea in any case), it will turn ugly in short order. Same issue if you make it in advance for a screening party for the aforementioned sporting event or just a casual get together. You can try sealing it with plastic wrap, top it with sour cream or bury a pit in it, but no dice. While the taste won't suffer, it will go from appealing green to not-so-appealing brown before you can stick a chip in it. 

Jane and Sharon just hated that. And so they put their thinking caps on and spent four years and about $100,000 each coming up with a solution. They knew nothing about engineering, material science or food chemistry, not to mention marketing, branding and distribution. But learn it all they did, or more to the point, found the right people who did know and could help them. Through trial and error, they created a non gas-permeable push-up container that allows you pile the guac in, push the air out like a giant tube of toothpaste, and seal it up tight. Their invention was acquired by home products company Casabella, and was trending towards $1 million in sales last year. 

Hollywood, take notice. Also General Motors, Proctor and Gamble and Hersheys. Specifically, there are still ideas out here beyond "Iron Man 2" or Crest Super White. Sure, there will be a few Apple Newtons along the way. But every now and again the stars align, and a truly unique idea flourishes. Put another way, in this case, the guac really is always greener.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves chips and dips. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.