Tuesday, January 22, 2008

36(6), day 22 - clicker

I have a bunch of remotes. Sometimes seems like too many.

Sears to shift to independently run units

Assets easier to sell in pieces, analyst says

By Sandra M. Jones
Chicago Tribune

2:48 PM CST, January 20, 2008

Sears Holdings Corp. is reorganizing the retail company into a fleet of independently run operating businesses, each with its own leader and agenda, in a move that could make it easier to sell off assets.

The change, confirmed by the company on Saturday, comes as billionaire hedge fund investor Edward Lampert attempts to save his biggest investment, salvage his reputation and recover billions of dollars in lost equity. Lampert owns 48 percent of Hoffman Estates-based Sears through his Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund.

"We are introducing an organizational structure that provides operating businesses with greater control, authority and autonomy," Sears said in a statement. "Each operating business unit will have a designated leader and an advisory group comprised of senior Sears Holdings executives to provide direction and oversee the business unit's performance."

Sears Holdings operates Sears, Kmart and some specialty companies. Just how many units will be created is unclear. But Sears has in the past studied the prospect of putting its real estate holdings into a separate entity. It also could create individual businesses around its Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances and DieHard batteries brands and sell or license them.

Sears declined to comment beyond the statement.

The reorganization, first reported in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, was announced inside the company Thursday.

"It seems to me this is more like asset management than brand management," said Neil Stern, partner at McMillan Doolittle, a Chicago-based retail consulting firm. "It would make it easier to sell the parts in pieces, but harder to run as a retail company."

For example, Stern said, if Kenmore appliances are run as a separate business, it would make sense to sell Kenmore at rival stores such as Home Depot or Lowe's in order to boost product sales. But the move could be bad for Sears retail outlets because the broader department store relies on the brand, which is exclusive to Sears, to bring shoppers into the store, where they will hopefully buy other products as well.

Initially, investors bet that Lampert's track record as one of Wall Street's best performing hedge fund managers would allow him to work some magic on Sears, a retailer with lots of assets but little retail flair. But Sears isn't improving as a retailer and Lampert has so far held on to most of Sears' assets.

Sears continues to lose market share to more nimble competitors such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. After some initial profit improvement under Lampert, thanks to cost cuts and investments, earnings are in decline too.

Profit dropped 99 percent in the third quarter over the year-ago period, its worst quarter by far since the billionaire took control of the department store chain and combined it with Kmart in March 2005. If not for the money made on investments, Sears would have been in the red.

And it's not getting any better. Last week, Sears warned that fourth-quarter earnings per share are expected to decline 35 percent to 51 percent.

With sales falling, the economy sputtering and little room left for more cost cuts, Lampert faces growing pressure to sell assets to generate cash, something investors have been awaiting for more than two years.

Just how autonomous the new business units will be from Lampert is hard to say. Lampert has a reputation as a micromanager, and that can get in the way of recruiting talented retail executives.

Last week, John Walden, the chief customer officer Lampert hired from Best Buy Co., resigned after less than a year in the job, Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite confirmed. Walden, who reported directly to Lampert, was hired to help Sears become "more entrepreneurial and customer driven," Lampert said in a news release at the time.

Lampert has said from the start that he intended to run Sears as a retailer first and foremost. That left asset sales as a backstop if things went bad.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

36(6), day 20 - fragrances in the light

I didn't mention before that I like cologne, at least I don't think I did. It smells good and the bottles are usually pretty cool looking.

Friday, January 18, 2008

36(6), day 18 - if only the doctor had these in the waiting room

These are the latest magazines on my "to read" list. I tend to receive them faster than I can read them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

36(6), day 16 - silver crush

I got an ice crusher for my Mom over Christmas. It's been a big hit around the house.

Nike set to release 23rd Air Jordan

BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) -- It's gotta be the shoes, right?

No other basketball shoe has changed the face of business, athletics and marketing like the Air Jordan. This month, Nike releases the 23rd edition, and it is expected to be just as venerated as its predecessors.

The sleek design and link to Michael Jordan's jersey number make it a touchstone in the line. It's also Nike's first basketball shoe designed under its "Considered" ethos, which aims to reduce waste and use environmentally friendly materials wherever possible.

The Air Jordan XX3 will be released in three hyped-up rounds from January to February, starting with a limited edition to be sent to only 23 retailers to be sold for $230 and concluding with the national launch at $185.

There had been talk at Nike about retiring the shoe at No. 23, because of his iconic jersey number. But company officials won't say whether this will be the last of the line. Neither will Jordan.

"You'll just have to wait and see," Jordan said in an e-mail to The Associated Press, responding to questions about the upcoming release.

Before launching the first shoe in 1985, Nike had just signed Jordan for $2.5 million over five years. Nike won't say what Jordan's current contract with the company is worth.

Jordan's deal with Nike opened the door for sneaker manufacturers to chase after athletes, signing them up --sometimes just out of high school-- for multimillion-dollar contracts in hopes of being able to cash in on the next superstar. It sent sneaker prices to new heights, which has since generated a backlash against selling pricey shoes to basketball-loving kids.

"The Air Jordan franchise created the most coveted basketball footwear in the world and changed the basketball landscape forever," said Nike Brand President Charlie Denson.

Unlike most basketball shoes to date, which were often white and utilitarian, the Air Jordan was a shock of black and red. It was initially banned by the NBA for not conforming with other players' shoes.

Jordan continued to wear them and was fined $5,000 a game, which Nike paid.

"Nobody expected the mass hysteria created by its release," Jordan, who has been a part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats since 2006, said in his e-mail to The AP.

A new edition was launched each year, and release dates had to be moved to the weekends to keep kids from skipping school to get a pair.

The frenzy got dangerous. People were mugged and even killed for the shoes.

The Air Jordans helped spawn a subculture of collectors, who line up at stores to buy the shoe's latest edition.

Jordan said he never expected that the shoe would become an icon.

"Like every kid growing up, I dreamed of making winning shots at the buzzer and I was fortunate to live out that dream, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever entertain the idea of the success of the Air Jordan franchise," he said.

The Air Jordans moved basketball shoes from true high-tops or low-tops to a middle range and used unheard of styles, such as patent leather toes and elephant print.

As Jordan's success grew on the courts, so did Nike's in the shoe industry.

People from the streets to the suburbs were wearing $100-plus basketball shoes, which was unheard of at the time.

That price is the norm today, but it has launched a backlash, such as the partnership between New York Knicks player Stephon Marbury and the Steve & Barry's store chain to sell basketball shoes for $14.98 -- a direct stab at pricey sneakers like Air Jordans.

At that time, the Air Jordan captured a mix of design, marketing, athleticism and player charisma that hadn't been seen before in the industry -- everyone wanted to "Be Like Mike."

"Athletes had been endorsing products for years prior to this," said Tinker Hatfield, Nike's Vice President of Innovation Design and Special Projects.

"But they were just signing their name to the shoe. I think there was a very understandable difference...Michael's personality and even the changes in the game and inspiration from other walks of life were all sort of being designed into this product and that made it more interesting."

Jordan and Hatfield work together on the design and function on many of the Air Jordan shoes. Jordan has final say on design matters.

Air Jordan was the lightning in the bottle that every company hopes for.

Advertising images of Jordan soaring across the sky were ubiquitous. Spike Lee could be heard hollering "It's gotta be the shoes" on television. And Jordan's outstretched arms with the swoosh nearby adorned walls across the country.

Nike quickly moved from a running company and newcomer to the basketball category to the market leader. Some industry estimates put Nike's current share of the basketball shoe market at about 85 percent. Far behind are Adidas and Reebok.

The idea of adding such unusual style to a product or so closely aligning with a personality was novel at the time, but it paid off.

Other companies tried to follow suit but it was like trying to come up with the next Harry Potter or iPhone for basketball.

The relationship completely changed the idea of sports marketing. Companies now make athlete sponsorships the centerpiece of their business, spending millions signing them and designing product lines and marketing platforms around them.

Jordan's original deal seems like a pittance compared to multimillion-dollar contracts inked these days, such as Nike's $90 million agreement with LeBron James.

"The beginning of the Jordan era marked a new and more sophisticated approach to leveraging an athlete," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

Like any bet, athletic companies take their risks -- some pay off, like Tiger Woods or LeBron James. But some don't, a la Michael Vick. Nike terminated its contract with Vick last August after his plea agreement on dogfighting charges.

Jordan was spun off into its own division in 1997, a move that some high up in Nike questioned when Jordan retired.

But the business is a key component, with new players signing on under the brand. Nike has spun that Jordan swagger into performance and luxury apparel for men and woman.

The Air Jordan remains the pinnacle piece for shoe collectors. The original Air Jordan 1 can sell for thousands of dollars, depending on various factors.

Jordan said: "It blows my mind that even after five years removed from the game the shoe would be stronger than ever and I would still be greeted by fans as if I had just won a championship all over again."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy Smurfday!

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — They're turning 50 without a hint of gray.

Just blue. Lots of blue.

The Smurfs are hitting the half-century mark, and Papa Smurf and Smurfette helped kick off a year of celebrations Monday with sarsaparilla juice and — naturally — Smurfberry cake.

The late cartoonist Pierre Culliford — best known by his pen name, "Peyo" — first introduced the tiny blue figures in a comic strip in October 1958. He called them Schtroumpf; they became known worldwide as the Smurfs.

The Smurfs, forest dwellers who live in little white-capped mushroom homes, developed their own "Smurf" language in which nouns and verbs were interchanged.

Their debut on U.S. television in 1981 launched their global rise to stardom and made the Smurfs a household name. A Smurf is a Pitufo in Spanish, a Schlumpf in German, Nam Ching Ling to the Chinese, a Sumafa in Japan and Dardassim in Hebrew.

"I think that if he could see all that has been done with his characters since his death and the success and interest that the Smurfs still attract, he would be very, very, very, very happy and very proud," said Peyo's son, Thierry Culliford.

To mark 50 years of Smurfdom, organizers are planning everything from a 3-D animation feature film expected to be released next year to new comic book collections and a remastered release of the popular 1980s television animated series, Peyo's family said.

Peyo's widow and two children will help kick off a European birthday tour in Brussels. The Smurfs celebration will continue in Paris and Berlin.

The Smurfs also will team up with the UNICEF to promote children's rights and education worldwide, said Yves Willemont of UNICEF Belgium.

"The Smurfs and UNICEF have a lot of values in common — values about joy, happiness and respect," Willemont said. "We also have in common the fact that we are dedicated to the cause of children and to the promotion of every child and the right of every child to survive."

UNICEF and the Smurfs joined forces two years ago to raise the plight of ex-child soldiers in Africa.

Born in Brussels, Peyo worked as a movie projectionist before entering the world of comic strip drawing.

The Smurfs appeared as a supporting cast of characters in Peyo's 1958 "Johan and Pirlouit" cartoon, which was set in the Middle Ages.

The Smurfs quickly grew in popularity and by 1960, the Smurfs had their own comic strip series and. With the help of the Hanna-Barbera Productions, the Smurfs became an animated cartoon in 1981.

Thierry Culliford said the Smurfs promote love and friendship. He said many who grew up watching the Smurfs on TV during the 1980s and 1990s now are parents and want to introduce the Smurfs to their children.

Demand for Smurf stories continues, said Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, which controls the rights of the Smurf brand worldwide.

"Thousands of fans are asking for more stories and these will be based of course on the fantastic asset that Peyo has left us," Coysman said.

Peyo, who died 15 years ago, "would be very happy if he were here today" to see Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Handy, Jokey and the troop of 96 others celebrate 50 years of Smurfmania, daughter Veronique Culliford said.

36(6), day 15 - geek cup

This was my prize for knowing the most New York trivia on my last bus trip.

Oh yeah, maybe you'd like to see the photos.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Typefaces reveal a font of personality traits

By Sam McManis
Friday, Jan. 11 2008

You are reading this story in a typeface called Poynter OS Text Two L. Or, if you're online, it's in an Arial font.

Did you notice?

Do you care?

Many people don't. They go through their daily lives — sending e-mails, writing résumés, composing Word documents, crafting PowerPoint presentations — oblivious to the multitude of typefaces at their disposal.

Take New York Times best-selling mystery author John Lescroart, who lives in Davis, Calif.

"I just use my default font," Lescroart says. "I don't even know what it is. Hold on. I can tell you in about 10 seconds."

As we wait for Lescroart's answer, let's ponder the sudden and curious ascension of typefaces (also labeled fonts in most computer programs) for many others. It's a phenomenon in the pop-culture world, really, that goes hand-in-mouse with digital technology.

A new documentary, "Helvetica," which explores the appeal of that most utilitarian of typefaces, is garnering good reviews. Online sites where you can buy — no exaggeration — more than 58,000 fonts have proliferated, as has the griping by typography traditionalists. One art snob in Indiana has even started an online movement trying to ban the goofy typeface Comic Sans.

And yes, academics have weighed in, too. Researchers at Wichita State University in Kansas have published a series of studies detailing what your font of choice says about you — sort of a Rorschach test for the Web 2.0 set.

But, anyway, back to Lescroart.

"OK," he says, "I'm currently typing in Times New Roman 12."

Then, he adds, almost apologetically: "I don't take advantage of what's out there."

Other people, however, do. And they see typefaces as extensions of their personalities.

"Typefaces are the clothes words wear, and just as we make judgments about people by the clothes they wear, so we make judgments about the information we're reading by the typefaces," typography analyst Caroline Archer told BBC radio recently.

For those who have, like, a life, here's a quick primer on typefaces: They are divided into two main groups — serif and sans serif. Serifs, simply, are letters with tiny horizontal lines added to the top and bottom of letters. Sans serifs, therefore, don't have such appendages.

Of course, designers have manipulated type into all sorts of tricked-out forms.

But do fonts really make the man or woman?

"The cliché in my business is that type talks," says Peter Norris, creative director for Sacramento advertising agency Runyon Saltzman Einhorn. "Think of it as your voice. A good company will be very consistent with its voice, whatever it's trying to convey. Some fonts are heavy and yell at you. Others are strong silent types."

Try this out as a new pickup line: Hey, babe, I'm a Rockwell Xbold. Are you my type?

Caroline Loomis, a junior high school computer arts teacher in Davis, says she tries mightily to get her students to go easy on the wacky fonts. One popular choice for kids, she says, is Blackletter686 BT.

"(It's a) very fancy, Old English kind of calligraphic font," Loomis says. "It's a headline font totally unsuited to paragraph text."

In other words, it's hard to read.

Loomis has hundreds of fonts at her disposal but admits that she remains a typeface conservative.

"While I might wish to use a font or color to express 'me,' I never actually do it for fear that the other person will interpret it incorrectly," she says.

Although Loomis does lighten up occasionally by using Comic Sans — but only in the privacy of her own home.

Hmmm. So, by the Wichita State psychology-research-study standard, does that mean Loomis has a split personality?

Perhaps. Loomis' penchant for Times New Roman makes her "stable, mature, formal and conformist," according to the data, whereas her Comic Sans bent makes her "happy, cuddly, youthful and casual."

But it's not really you that's being judged, lead researcher Dawn Shaikh hastens to add — it's how others perceive you.

Shaikh came by her study's findings after quizzing 561 subjects in 2005 and 2006 on 20 popular typefaces using 15 adjective pairs. From that, she and the two other researchers developed specific personality traits.

Shaikh's data suggest that those wanting to come off well in typeface correspondence should use sans serif fonts such as Verdana, Arial and Microsoft's new Calibri, or old serif standbys such as Georgia and Times New Roman.

Typefaces to avoid, lest you be saddled with a negative adjective: Rockwell Xbold ("rude, coarse, unattractive"), Impact ("plain, rigid, assertive"), Gigi (unstable, rebel, impractical) and Courier New ("dull, unimaginative, plain").

"Those (negative) typeface personalities do translate to the perception of the document," Shaikh maintains.

But, unpopular as they may be, they haven't yet drawn the ire of graphic designers in an organized campaign, a la Comic Sans.

Norris, of Runyon Saltzman Einhorn, says, simply: "I hate it."

Indianapolis designer Dave Combs has taken his hatred a step further by developing the semi-tongue-in-cheek website, bancomicsans.com, which encourages people to download decals to slap on any document or banner that uses the offending typeface.

"These widespread abuses of printed type threaten to erode the very foundations upon which centuries of typographic history are built," Combs writes on his site. "Since the advent of desktop publishing, powerful tools are in the hands of uneducated people unaware of proper font usage."

Microsoft designer Vincent Connare introduced the typeface in 1995. But Combs blames the average user for foisting Comic Sans on us in such inappropriate places as medical forms, governmental signage and resumes.

In any case, think twice ­— no, three times — before using a "fun font" like Comic Sans in a resume, advises Dan Greitzer of Resumes By Design in Sacramento.

"I really discourage anything outlandish," he says. "It's got to be readable. I use Times New Roman. It's serious, straight business writing. Courier or Arial also work. Don't get too weird."

But it's a whole other story for those with a decidedly artistic bent.

Lescroart notwithstanding, authors tend of obsess on typefaces. In the introduction to a new anthology of short stories to be published in February, editor (and novelist) Zadie Smith apologized to authors for removing their idiosyncratic font.

"There are quite a few writers in this volume who use variations on the nostalgic American Typewriter font (and they are all American), as if the ink were really wet and the press still hot," Smith writes. "We have two users of the elegant, melancholic Didot font (both British), and a writer who centres the text in one long, thin strip down the page, like a newspaper column (and uses Georgia, a font that has an academic flavor). Anyway, I hope what remains
will satisfy."

Because, after all, authors have been known to take matters into their own hands.

Several years ago, best-selling British horror novelist James Herbert had his publisher pulp the first run of a novel because it had the audacity to use a typeface other than Century Old Style.

Asked BBC reporter Ian Peacock, "What would you do if a publisher decided to print your book in Arial or Verdana?"

Herbert: "Then I wouldn't be with that publisher anymore. ... I'm a pain, but I'm usually right."

Yeah, we know the type.

36(6), day 14 - time is...

My modest everyday watch collection.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

36(6), day 13 - top cap

It's a pretty good hat, especially as hard a time as I've had finding a stylish one that fits.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

36(6), day 9 - grumma anna & ganddaddy bill

My paternal grandparents: Anner Lee Dickerson Swain (1916-1976) and William Taft Swain, Sr. (1912-1984)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

36(6), day 8 - ancient gift reciept

This is a primitive version of a gift receipt, circa 1993. I found it on an old juicer in a thrift store. I love that old Belk-Leggett logo.

Monday, January 07, 2008

36(6), day 7 - ut prosim

Check this out! I got this old Virginia Tech seal from a men's store that closed down in Ronaoke. They used to have a Blacksburg store, and this was a prop from it.

I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I'll figure out something.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Friday, January 04, 2008

36(6), day 4 - hello?

This is my cell phone. I can't live without it, though I'd sure love to try.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

36(6), day 2 - my "old guy" shoes

These are my New Balance MX621WN cross-trainers. I haven't updated the Shoe Collection in a while, but this is one of my current models. They're not the most fashionable shoes, but they do the job and they fit well.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

36(6), day 1 - goodbye manhattan

I threw out a bunch of old New York magazines today, since I had time to sort through things.

Happy New Year! This is one of those experiments where I try to see if I can post a picture of myself or my life each day for a solid year. Here's hoping I don't give up on this after a week.