November 05, 2004
Chow Magazine - How to lose $300,000 and have a blast
I never fail to be fascinated by people who start businesses.
Consider that most of them will fail, losing their and their investors' hard-earned money.
Among the very riskiest things to do is start a restaurant.
90% of new restaurants never make it past one year.
Yet 100% of those who start them think they're for sure among the fortunate 10%.
I guess it's a little like marriage: ask any couple getting married and they'll assure you theirs will last.
Yet half of them are wrong.
Even more likely to crash and burn than a restaurant is a new magazine.
Tons come out every year, then vanish.
So I was intrigued to read the New York Times Dining Out story last Thursday by David Carr about the debut of Chow magazine.
I was even more interested when I read that the magazine's founder and editor, Jane Goldman, is a former high-ranking editor at The Industry Standard, the flagship weekly of the internet bubble magazine fleet.
It went down with gusto, after burning through more than $100 million before crashing and burning in 2001.
This time, when Goldman couldn't convince people she knew in Silicon Valley to finance her new magazine (why am I not surprised?), she put the arm on family and friends for the $300,000 she needed to finance the first issues.
bookofjoe tip: buy it at the newstand; don't subscribe quite yet.
If Jane were a member of my family, I would've declined her offer to invest.
I give this magazine a less than 1% chance of getting to year two.
Not my kind of odds.
But I guess people really don't mind throwing their money into black holes.
Here's the Times story.
Chow Mag Goes Well With 'Tude
Most recipes for starting a serious magazine include dozens of staff members and many millions of dollars, but Chow, an independent magazine making its debut, is being produced by a few hardy souls working with a low six-figure budget.
The differences do not end there.
Most food magazines are the glossy equivalent of an expensive chef knife: gorgeous to behold, and sometimes a bit challenging for the average amateur to use correctly.
Chow is more like a Buck knife, utilitarian in the extreme and no-nonsense in approach.
And unlike established magazines, Chow is far more irreverent and less bent on establishing foodie credentials.
On the phone from the world headquarters of Chow - her apartment in the Castro district of San Francisco, where she put together the first issue - Jane Goldman, the founder and editor, said she and her staff had set out to make a food magazine that was mostly serious about having fun.
"There are a bunch of people who love food but don't read food magazines," she said. "Food writing has become sanctimonious and predictable."
Ruth Reichl, editor in chief at Gourmet, disagrees with the claim that magazines likes hers are stodgy.
"That's a pretty old idea of what a food magazine is," she said by telephone. "We've been working very hard to bring what we do down to earth and have some fun doing it. Nothing is taboo in our magazine."
Ms. Goldman said that the aim of Chow was to make a magazine for "people who are passionate about food but have fairly primitive cooking skills."
That demographic would include Ms. Goldman, who was a high-ranking editor at The Industry Standard, the weekly magazine that famously captured the essence of the Internet economy and burned through more than $100 million before crashing in 2001.
"The Standard was a wild ride," Ms. Goldman said.
"I was busier than I ever thought I could be. Chow is hectic, but in a different way. We are putting out a magazine with very little money and not that many people."
After failing to obtain financing from people she knew in the world of Silicon Valley venture capital, Ms. Goldman turned to friends and family to come up with $300,000, which she said should finance at least the first issues of the magazine, which is to be published six times a year.
With little money on hand, West Coast publishing friends provided articles and designed the magazine, and Francine Maroukian, a former caterer, longtime food writer for Esquire and the author of several cookbooks, came aboard.
The first issue of the magazine includes a feature on procuring illegal cheese, an alcohol-infused tour of the globe and a guide to ingredients to keep on hand to let you entertain on the spur of the moment.
Many-starred chefs offer their best breakfast ideas, and Alan Richman, the food critic, contributes an endorsement of Wendy's and other improbable recommendations.
Many indie magazines struggle in part because it is such a battle to reach consumers at the newsstand and to define a niche of people willing to buy into them.
"If there is a runway there, it is a very narrow one," said Mark Edmiston of AdMedia Partners, a media investment bank.
"But if you come up with something consumers are interested in, you can make a go of it."
For the time being, Chow is a tidy snack of a magazine, with an initial circulation of 50,000 and a future mostly predicated on high hopes and the kind of optimism that keeps people putting out new magazines even as major publishers struggle against a punishing set of industry economics.
"This is a very grass-roots model," Ms. Goldman said.
"Of course we would like to have a big investor, but for the time being we think we can find readers because there is such a clear need that recognizes that food is supposed to be fun."
300 front pages from 35 countries around the world
This great website
each day features around
300 different front page images
from newspapers all over the world.
Get a sense of how the world looks through the eyes of others.
MorphWorld: Is Apple morphing into Tiffany & Co.?
I think so.
Ever so subtly, Steve Jobs has edged Apple's signature blue closer and closer to the iconic blue of Tiffany.
The power of subliminal association and the equation of Tiffany with excellence, with Apple thus seen as being the Tiffany of computers, is the most striking example of guerilla marketing I've ever seen.
Makes Rei Kawakubo look like a piker.
You GO Steve!
Apple Paltrow Martin? No can do
Lizette Alvarez wrote a most interesting article for the October 8 New York Times about a country where names are so sacrosanct, there's a government-approved list.
Bet you can't guess the country.
No, it's not Afghanistan.
Or North Korea.
Q. Where is a name like a seatbelt?
Said Rasmus Larsen, chief adviser at the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs, which governs the names allowed for Danish children, about the century-old Law on Personal Names, "It doesn't want to see people put in a situation where they can't defend themselves. We do the same in traffic; we have people wear seat belts."
He has a point; studies have shown repeatedly that people with bizarre first names don't get as far in life as those with more common ones.
I've always felt Joe is wonderful cover for all manner of things, so I have to agree from the point of view of blending in for subversive and suchlike purposes. But I digress.
All the Scandinavian countries have similar laws, but Denmark's is the strictest.
Germany also has such a law.
Somehow I don't think this kind of thing would get very far in the U.S.
Yet it's odd: Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries are the most tolerant and liberal in the world in so many areas regarding personal freedom, but they still have quirky little areas like this where they make us look free and forgiving.
There are 3,000 approved names for boys, 4,000 for girls.
Anyone requesting an unapproved name must first seek permission at their local parish church, where all newborn names are registered.
This triggers a review at Copenhagen University's Names Investigation Department and at the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, which has the final say.
So I guess - at least in Denmark - "A rose by any other name, would still be a rose" is, as they say in Washington, "not operative."
Maybe Shakespeare got it right 400 years ago, when he wrote, in "Hamlet," "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."
If so, the Danish authorities are sure doing their darndest to make things right: they rejected the name Anus.
Here's the Times story.
Jens and Vita, but Molli? Danes Favor Common Names
If Denmark somehow morphed into the celebrity epicenter of the universe, there would be no place for the baby-naming eccentricities of the world's megastars.
Apple Paltrow Martin would be rejected as a fruit, Jett Travolta as a plane (and misspelled, to boot), Brooklyn Beckham as a place, and Rumer Willis, as, well, Danish name investigators would not even know where to begin with that one.
"Cuba is also a problem," said Michael Lerche Nielsen, assistant professor for the Department of Name Research at Copenhagen University.
"I have to decide: Is this a typical boy or girl name? And that's the problem with geographical names."
In Denmark, a country that embraces rules with the same gusto that Italy defies them, choosing a first and last name for a child is a serious, multitiered affair, governed by law and subject to the approval of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs.
At its heart, the Law on Personal Names is designed to protect Denmark's innocents - the children who are undeservedly, some would say cruelly, burdened by preposterous or silly names.
It is the state's view that children should not suffer ridicule and abuse because of their parents' lapses in judgment or their misguided attempts to be hip.
Denmark, like much of Scandinavia, prizes sameness, not uniqueness, just as it values usefulness, not frivolousness.
"You shouldn't stand out from anyone else here; you shouldn't think you are better than anyone else," said Lan Tan, a 27-year-old Danish woman of Singaporean and Malaysian descent who is trying to win approval for her daughter's name, Frida Mei Tan-Farndsen.
"It's very Scandinavian."
While other Scandinavian countries have similar laws, Denmark's is the strictest.
So strict that the Danish Ministry of Justice is proposing to relax the law to reflect today's Denmark, a place where common-law marriage is accepted, immigration is growing, and divorce is routine.
The measure, which would add names to the official list, is scheduled for debate in Parliament in November.
"The government, from a historical point of view, feels a responsibility towards its weak citizens," said Rasmus Larsen, chief adviser at the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs, discussing the law.
"It doesn't want to see people put in a situation where they can't defend themselves. We do the same in traffic; we have people wear seat belts."
People expecting children can choose a pre-approved name from a government list of 7,000 mostly Western European and English names - 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls.
A few ethnic names, like Ali and Hassan, have recently been added.
But those wishing to deviate from the official list must seek permission at their local parish church, where all newborns' names are registered.
A request for an unapproved name triggers a review at Copenhagen University's Names Investigation Department and at the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, which has the ultimate authority.
The law only applies if one of the parents is Danish.
Many parents do not realize how difficult it can be to get a name approved by the government.
About 1,100 names are reviewed every year, and 15%-20% are rejected, mostly for odd spellings.
Compound surnames, like Tan-Farnsden, also pose a problem.
Parents who try to be creative by naming their child Jakobp or Bebop or Ashleiy (three recent applications) are typically stunned when they are rejected.
In some cases, a baby may go without an officially approved name for weeks, even months, making for irate, already sleep-deprived, parents.
Greg Nagan, 39, and Trine Kammer, 32, thought it would be cute to name their new daughter Molli Malou.
To their surprise, Malou was not a problem, but Molli with an i, which they thought sounded Danish, had to be reviewed by the government.
The church told Kammer she needed to state in a letter the reason for choosing Molli.
She did so, and said she told the clerk, "Here's your stupid letter: The reason for naming her Molli is because we like it."
"Isn't this silly?" Kammer said.
"We love to make everything a rule here. They love to bureaucratize."
The century-old law was initially designed to bring order to surnames.
Before the law, surnames changed with every generation: Peter Hansen would name his son Hans Petersen.
Then Hans Petersen would name his son Peter Hansen.
And on it went, wreaking bureaucratic havoc.
The law ended that.
It also made it difficult for people to change their last names, a move that was designed to appease the noble class, which feared widespread name-poaching by arrivistes, Nielsen said.
Then in the 1960s, a furor erupted over the first name Tessa, which resembled tisse, which means to urinate in Danish.
Distressed over the lack of direction in the law, the Danish government expanded the statute to grapple with first names.
Now the law is as long as an average size book.
It falls mostly to Nielsen, at Copenhagen University, to apply the law and review new names, on a case-by-case basis.
In a nutshell, he said, Danish law stipulates that boys and girls must have different names, first names cannot also be last names, and bizarre names are OK as long as they are "common."
"Let's say 25 different people" worldwide, he said, a number that was chosen arbitrarily. How does Nielsen make that determination?
He searches the Internet.
Generally, geographic names are rejected because they seldom denote gender.
Cairo, if it is approved at all, may be approved for a boy, but then could not be used for a girl.
Jordan is a recent exception to the one-gender rule.
In some cases, Nielsen says, he believes he is performing a vital public service.
He advised the Ministry that Anus and Pluto be rejected, for example.
He also vetoed Monkey.
"That's not a personal name, " Nielsen explained.
"It's an animal. I have to protect the children from ridicule."
Leica, however, has been approved, as has Benji, Jiminico and Fee.
"People's names have become part of their identities now," Nielsen said.
"And people change their names the way you change your clothes or your apartment. It has become more common."
And what about Molli Malou?
Approved, by government decree, just recently.
bookofjoe aside: 1998 Nobel Prize in literature winner José Saramago's novel "All the Names" is superb.
All aboard for the Starlight Express
No, it won't take you to the North Pole, but it will take you direct from Charlottesville to New York City every Saturday morning for $149 round-trip.
The ride takes six hours in a totally tricked-out bus: it's got 22 reclining leather BMW seats, first-class seat foot room, a state-of-the-art sound system, and an upgraded restroom.
Snacks and nonalcoholic beverages are served en route.
The bus leaves Charlottesville at 5:30 a.m. (ouch), and arrives in Manhattan's meatpacking district, just south of Chelsea, around 11:30 a.m.
Return trips leave New York at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, arriving back in Charlottesville at 11:30 p.m.
Nonstop roundtrip airfare to New York City from Charlottesville, for comparison, is $412.
People who've taken the trip said the bus doesn't have the Trailways smell, either.
bookofjoe promises to show any Gotham joehead making the journey south a grand time.
Caller ID hacking
Yesterday I mused about being able to create a disposable one-time-use phone number for yourself; whoever has enough technosmarts to do it's gonna be rich as Croesus.
But that won't be me: my job is to produce ideas so you can thrive, multiply, and go forth in all your glory. But I digress.
Recently there's been a big hue and cry about the appearance of Caller ID spoofing.
So what if you can fool someone into thinking you're someone else?
But the establishment line is that this is a threat to privacy, blah blah blah.
His story appeared on the front page of last Saturday's Washington Post Business section.
New Tricks Fool Caller ID
Some See Potentially Dangerous Abuse
It wasn't long after caller ID became popular that some people signed up for telephone services to block their number from being displayed.
Now comes another trick: Companies are marketing systems to help callers fool telephone identification services into thinking they are someone else entirely.
The Web-based systems allow callers to spoof their identity by taking on the name and number of another legitimate caller.
A company calling itself Camophone says its Privacy Guard service will handle the spoofing on a call-by-call basis for as little as $5.
Another, Star38, said it is marketing its software only to law enforcement agencies.
At least one other start-up plans to release its version soon.
The systems have hit a nerve among consumers who fear that such tools could give stalkers and debt-collection agencies an insidious new weapon.
When Star38 launched in September, it decision to market to debt-collection companies generated so much anger among consumers that the small firm quickly changed its sales tactics.
Star38 now says that approach was "flawed."
Camophone was content to let word of mouth circulate on the Internet until the widely followed news site Slashdot drew attention to an article about its product on SecurityFocus, a computer security news site owned by Symantec Corp., maker of the Norton line of computer safety software.
The Camophone Web site is registered to a third-party Web hosting firm in New Jersey called Registerfly.com, which keeps the identities of its customers confidential on the grounds that this protects its users from identity theft, unsolicited commercial e-mail and telemarketing calls.
A Camophone representative, who called (spoofing a reporter's number) in response to an e-mail query and declined to give his name to avoid harassment, said he recognized that some people might abuse the system.
But, he said, our "intention with the service is not to allow anybody to do anything illegal. Our intention was to allow people to protect their privacy."
In a world where consumers have finally gotten some relief from annoying telemarketer calls, thanks to the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry, technology that tampers with caller ID could mean a new avenue for scammers and tricky sales tactics.
"This right here would probably be a stalker's dream," said Michael Brown, who works for a telecommunications company in Franklin, Tennessee.
For the past week or two, Brown has used the Web service to play jokes on his friends and family (he called a Post reporter using the faked number 666-666-6666 yesterday).
Though he's used the ruse only for his amusement, Brown said it was easy to think of "so many scams you could try with this thing."
Marketing associations were quick to condemn the use of caller ID-altering products for marketing purposes.
Patricia Kachura, vice president of ethics and consumer affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said that using technology to mask a marketer's identity is illegal under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.
The exception is that it is legal for a business to transmit a different number for display on caller ID as long as the number belongs to the marketer's company.
In other words, it is legal for salespeople to make a call from their personal line and have the call show up as coming from their company's main number.
Jim Reynolds, chief analyst at Star38, based in Wilmington, Delaware, said that making his company's technology available only to law enforcement agencies is "the right approach."
"We don't see the advantage of making this type of technology available to the masses," he said.
"This is a potentially dangerous technology and it has to be handled properly. You can't have a sophomoric approach."
Dave Schroeder, a systems administrator at the University of Wisconsin, said he visited Camophone's Web site because he was curious to see if it actually works.
In many cases, he has found that the text associated with the number in the caller ID system does not always transmit when he makes a call.
He called a Post reporter using a return number belonging to a "George W. Bush" in Pennsylvania, but only the digits of the number appeared on the caller ID.
In any case, the service's novelty value may be running thin for Schroeder.
"You can only call so many of your co-workers before they start to get irritated," he said.
OCD - Compatible Knife Block
Have a friend who's a little obsessive?
Doesn't tolerate even a speck of dust in her place?
Here's her Christmas present.
It's a solid maple knife block (above) - with, not a twist but, rather, a secret.
It opens up for cleaning.
Bet you never thought about what might have gathered down those narrow black slots all these years, huh?
Well, your friend has.
And now she - and you - can find out.
The clever $89.99 block relocks with powerful magnets.
The website says "knives not included."
Actually, I came upon this item, called the Clam, while I was searching for a different version that I saw in Wednesday's New York Times Dining Out section.
According to the Times, this one - also called the Clam - is made of walnut, costs $195, and is held together not by magnets but by metal clips.
It's sold at the Conran Shop, but I'll be darned if I could find it online.
That is, at the Conran website.
I told my crack research team, "I want you to find this. No excuses."
And, after many hours of poking around a number of virtual nooks, crannies, and dead ends online, they found it.
It's the same block that was pictured in the Times.
Except my team found it for a much nicer price: $109.
So now you've got a choice of woods, designs, and prices.
Isn't it great?
bookofjoe aside: with very rare exceptions - i.e., an item can be found at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. - I will not post things here that are not available online.
Especially after yesterday morning's revelation.
At 11:54 a.m. my time (U.S. Eastern) I had a look at my world map of current visitors.
To my amazement, fully 53% - over half - were visiting from outside the U.S.
Here's a screenshot
of the actual map I saw.
bookofjoe is truly global.
Now, about that China problem....