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September 16, 2007

Almost famous? If you're a Brit — go home!

That's the gist of yesterday's Wall Street Journal article by John Jurgensen about the increasing difficulties facing not-so-famous U.K. musicians trying to enter and perform in the U.S.; the story follows.

    U.S. Repels British Invasion

    Immigration policy collides with surge of U.K. bands, scuttling fall concert plans

    British pop star Lily Allen [top] was supposed to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards last weekend and then head to the West Coast for the week of sold-out concerts she had booked. Instead, she spent this past week at home in London.

    The reason: The chart-topping singer can't get into the U.S. American authorities took away her immigration visa last month.

    This fall, the British aren't coming. Immigration restrictions are stopping some popular United Kingdom acts from reaching U.S. borders. At least three anticipated tours by British artists scheduled for this month alone have been called off or pushed back because of musicians' visa problems. That is on top of at least 10 scuttled tours by buzzed-about British acts in the last year.

    Part of the problem, immigration specialists say: The traditional visa system isn't set up to cope with the new face of popular music. To get into the U.S., many foreign music acts need to secure a document known as the "P-1"-class visa. This visa requires acts to prove that they have been "internationally recognized" for a "sustained and substantial" amount of time.

    But in the current music scene, some of the most sought-after bands are ones that didn't exist two years ago and have risen rapidly thanks to exposure on the Internet. These bands, with huge fan followings but short track records, are finding themselves trying to prove to immigration officials that they are famous.

    For the English band Klaxons, that meant submitting clips of magazine reviews as part of their visa application package last year. The band, which last week won the U.K.'s prestigious Nationwide Mercury Prize, is known for a driving mix of dance, pop and rock that sparks frenzied live shows. After forming in the fall of 2005, the group quickly ascended to fame in England, thanks in large part to buzz on MySpace.

    Last fall, the group landed a spot at the CMJ music festival in New York, an annual showcase of new talent. But its visa request was delayed when immigration officials said they needed more evidence of the band's longevity. About a week before its scheduled trip to the U.S., the band pulled the plug on the tour. The group waited another seven months to enter the U.S.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says that the Internet has changed the kind of evidence that bands present — posts from blogs and online magazines now appear in application packages. But the agency says it will only consider these sources if the band can prove that they are well-read and influential. The burden of proof falls on the band.

    "We're not Simon Cowell. We're the people who have to know why this group qualifies," says Robert DeJulius, an adjudications supervisor at one of the two service centers that processes P-1 visas. Mr. DeJulius adds that his center has, in fact, processed the petition of Mr. Cowell, the "American Idol" judge.

    Immigration restrictions have affected fields from investment banking to biotechnology in recent years. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a national debate on immigration, some companies say they have had more trouble bringing in talented people from abroad. The pop-music world is dealing with its own version of this issue.

    Emerging indie bands account for a small portion of music-industry revenues. But concert promoters and clubs typically take a hit whenever there's a cancellation. Live concerts are one of the only bright spots in the music business now. Box-office grosses for the top 100 concerts increased by 3.7% to $1.05 billion for the first half of 2007 over the same period last year, according to Pollstar. Meanwhile, album sales fell by 15.1% in that period, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

    As a result of Ms. Allen's tour cancellation, instead of being packed to its 1,500-person capacity Friday night, the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Ore., was empty. The club didn't collect the $10,000 rental fee it would have gotten for the performance from local promoter Monqui Presents, which had spent about $2,000 advertising the show.

    "Being dark on a Friday night, it's a big loss," says Jimi Biron, a booker for McMenamins, the club chain that owns the Crystal Ballroom and 15 other venues.

    Had the tour happened, Ms. Allen would have collected up to $120,000 for six concerts, according to someone familiar with her earnings. She also could have pocketed up to $10,000 per concert in merchandise sales. Harder to estimate is the loss for Ms. Allen and her record label, Capitol, in album sales her tour could have spurred.

    "It's going to slow momentum down," says Ms. Allen's manager, Neale Easterby. "We just want to get back out there."

    In Ms. Allen's case, it wasn't lack of recognition that caused her visa problems. According to her manager, Ms. Allen had a one-year visa that was valid until Sept. 25. But it was taken away on Aug. 5 when she landed in Los Angeles. Her manager says he thinks the visa might have been revoked because Ms. Allen had been arrested in London in June after an altercation with photographers. USCIS says it does not comment on individual cases. Ms. Allen declined to comment.

    All this comes as some foreign governments are ramping up efforts to export pop music. New Zealand, for instance, has formed a music commission with a $400,000 budget to support the country's music acts on tours abroad. At least three bands will play New Zealand's first showcase concert at the CMJ festival next month.

    "We've seen a much more aggressive effort from the cultural export agencies. I see it as the globalization of the music marketplace," says CMJ founder Robert Haber. This year, bands from 50 countries are slated to perform at the event, up from about 30 countries three years ago.

    The Internet has made it easier for bands to build American fan bases before they ever land on U.S. shores. When the London indie-rock band Mystery Jets had to cancel its U.S. concert debut this summer because of visa problems, 21-year-old Krisan Cieszkiewicz of Portage, Ind., was devastated. "I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking or cruel in my life," says Ms. Cieszkiewicz, who had planned to see the band in Chicago.

    Canceled tours by British groups attract particular notice, in part because of a surge of British acts on the U.S. music scene. In the past two years, some of the best-selling albums in the U.S. have come from artists including James Blunt and Coldplay.

    The P-1 is one of several classes of visas that entertainers can use to enter the U.S. to work. Superstars and others deemed to have "extraordinary ability" typically receive an "O-1" visa.

    The number of P-1 visa applications approved by the U.S. government — which also includes visas for athletes and can include groups ranging from two to several dozen or more — has actually risen slightly in recent years — from 42,430 in 2001 to 46,205 in 2006. But some immigration experts say the visa process has become stricter and more complex for musicians.

    Before 2001, for example, tour managers were allowed to bring band members' visa documents to local U.S. consulates for visa approval. Now, each applicant must appear in person at a U.S. embassy for fingerprinting, a retinal scan and an interview.

    New guidelines allow acts to submit visa applications up to a year ahead of a tour, but most clubs won't schedule shows more than a few months ahead. Bands often pay an extra $1,000 fee for speedier "premium" processing.

    These logistical headaches are David King's bread and butter. Mr. King runs the New York-based Traffic Control Group, a company to which many bands turn for visa help. His clients include Lily Allen, Elton John and Van Morrison.

    A former insurance broker from England who became a U.S. citizen three years ago, Mr. King specializes in convincing immigration workers that his clients are, in fact, famous.

    On his office wall, Mr. King tracks pending tour deadlines on a large whiteboard. He says he has had only a handful of outright visa denials in his 10 years at Traffic Control; he turns down potential clients if he senses they won't pass muster.

    "We have a reputation to keep up," he says. "I say, 'Go away and come back in a year.' "

September 16, 2007 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

lazylibrary — 'Read less, get more'

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From the website:

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    Ever read a book that was a few hundred pages longer than it needed to be? Yeah, so have we. Fortunately, there are authors out there who would rather have a concise and effective book than a lengthy and diluted tome, and that's where we come in.

    Welcome to the lazylibrary, where you can find books on any topic without having to worry about high page counts. If it's over 200 pages, you won't even see it. Read all about anything, in less time, for (usually) less money.

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[via Angela Gunn's Tech Space]

September 16, 2007 at 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ET's Alarm Clock

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Adam Baer described this futuristic alarm clock in today's New York Times T magazine supplement, as follows.
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Sleeper Cell

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There’s no shortage of snooze aids out there, but most of them don’t take into account how we wake up. Enter Zyken’s NightCove, a sleep-rhythm alarm clock that caresses you awake. This futuristic box creates light combinations of varying color, wavelength and intensity. A dusklike amber glow darkens at bedtime; short pulses of white and blue light gradually awaken you come morning. The device also features an array of original sounds, as well as a connection to an MP3 player on the off chance that you need to be roused by a 30-piece orchestra.
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$2,500.

September 16, 2007 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If you post it, will they come? Small things; repeat often

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There are a couple things you can do to improve your blog or website's visibility.

1) Each time you cite a person's work, send them an email including what you've written about them. I put "Your name in lights" in the subject line, which is pretty hard to resist opening even if it's from a stranger.

I learned this years ago from Eugene Volokh (Go Bruins!) of Volokh Conspiracy fame, who mentioned it in passing in the course of an online Q&A.

Not only is it pleasing to almost anyone who learns you cared enough about what they had to say or did to write about it, but they might even tell their friends to have a look.

Small things, repeated over and over and over again, can make a huge difference over time, kind of like compound interest.

If it's a product I'm featuring, I try to contact the company offering it for the same reasons.

On a number of occasions they've put me in their links or press section, one more helpful small thing.

2) If you have a statistics package available, à la that offered by TypePad or a more in-depth package (I pay $19.95/month to Sitemeter, more than I pay TypePad [$15/month] for hosting my blog), there is a wealth of useful information available beyond the number of visitors and what countries they're from.

By going deep into the list of websites from which people find your site, you can learn of many interesting people, companies and websites all of whom found your site interesting enough to visit.

Of course, some may have stumbled on yours by accident but if there are three or four visits from a site, there's a possibility that there's something there of interest.

I've made a number of friends and discovered things of value and interest this way.

For example, Daylife.com, featured in today's 12:01 p.m. post, only became known to me when I happened on the list up top last evening while perusing my stats.

September 16, 2007 at 02:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dutch Idol — Vladi Rapaport's remarkable humanoid 5.1 surround sound speaker system

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"For more personal relations with your music source," is how he puts it on his website.

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He notes, "A particularly good position is when it embraces the listener,"

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Gert Jonkers wrote as follows in today's New York Times T magazine supplement about this wonderfully strange device, made of leather, aluminum and audio electronics.

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Speaker Engagement

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Vladi Rapaport, 26, takes surround sound literally — he’s created a sound system the size and shape of a human being, complete with five speakers and a subwoofer.

‘‘A particularly good position is when it embraces the listener,’’ says Rapaport, who studies at the Utrecht School of Product Design in the Netherlands and is clearly not afraid of cuddling with anthropomorphic prototypes. ‘‘It makes you realize exactly what your relationship with sound is.’’
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Dimensions: "Human size — 163 cm."

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Price upon application: info@vladirapaport.nl

September 16, 2007 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Daylife.com — 'A new way to explore the world'

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They found me (I noticed where a number of visitors had arrived at bookofjoe via Daylife) and then I found them.

"Daylife is a connection engine... where you can find, follow, and explore continuously updated news from thousands of sources worldwide in an endlessly clickable space."

September 16, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fetish Coffee: The search for the Holy Grail Bean

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In a September 12, 2007 New York Times Dining section front page story, Peter Meehan explored the unrelenting quest for the very finest coffee beans on the planet.

There appears to be no limit to the lengths people will go to acquire the very best.

Here's the article.

    To Burundi and Beyond for Coffee’s Holy Grail

    Duane Sorenson had planned to fly to Yemen, rattle up dirt roads in dusty four-by-fours and dart through the Arabian sky in prop planes as he toured the country searching for open-minded coffee growers. Mr. Sorenson, who is the owner of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore., intended to offer the farmers more money than anyone ever had before in return for a promise to improve their crops.

    But a mix-up with his passport left him stuck in Washington. Disappointed but undeterred, he boarded a plane for Guatemala City instead. When he arrived, he ate tortillas, beans and tilapia with the owner of Finca El Injerto in the western Huehuetenango department, one of the most celebrated coffee farms in Central America.

    It was a roundabout way to go for a meal. But Mr. Sorenson and a few like-minded coffee hunters around the country will go almost anywhere, do almost anything and pay almost any price in pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee. For people at Stumptown and friendly competitors like Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters and Tea Traders of Chicago and Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, N.C., long trips to remote farms for meetings without immediate payoffs are necessary steps in a much bigger goal: reinventing the coffee business.

    “These people have an almost unbelievable ability to source exquisite, unique coffees,” Mark Prince, senior editor at the coffee appreciation Web site coffeegeek.com, wrote in an e-mail.

    Connie Blumhardt, publisher of the coffee magazine Roast, concurs: “They are certainly the leaders right now. Some smaller roasters just worship them, like they’re these coffee megagods.”

    “Direct trade” is the most popular name of the style of business practiced by these coffee companies, known as roasters. It means, most simply, that the roasters buy their beans directly from the farms and cooperatives that grow them, not from brokers.

    The term was popularized by Geoff Watts, director of coffee and green coffee buyer for Intelligentsia. (Mr. Sorenson’s air miles last week paled beside those of Mr. Watts, who flew to Burundi with another coffee roaster to consult with groups who want to revive that country’s once-great coffee tradition.)

    Direct trade — which also means intensive communication between the buyer and the grower — stands in stark contrast to the old (but still prevalent) model, in which international conglomerates buy coffee by the steamer ship, through brokers, for the lowest price the commodity market will bear.

    It also represents, at least for many in the specialty coffee world, an improvement on labels like Fair Trade, bird-friendly or organic. Such labels relate to how the coffee is grown and may persuade consumers to pay a little extra for their beans, but offer no assurance about flavor or quality. Direct-trade coffee companies, on the other hand, see ecologically sound agriculture and prices above even the Fair Trade premium both as sound business practices and as a route to better-tasting coffee.

    By spending months every year visiting farms, these roasters seek to offer coffee that is produced as well as it can be, bought responsibly and roasted carefully. They aim, simply, to sell the best coffee possible.

    “It’s an exploration of coffee’s flavor, really” is how George Howell explains his mission. Mr. Howell, who runs George Howell Coffee Company, a roaster based in Acton, Mass., has had a hand in practically every lurch forward in the quality coffee scene since he started out in the business in 1974. “We’re finding flavors we’ve never ever tasted before, different fruit and floral flavors from really pristine, clean coffees. These are flavors that have been lost or diluted in the old methods of blending coffee down to an average product.”

    In many ways, the direct-trade roasters are building on the foundation laid by companies like Peet’s and, later, Starbucks, which went outside the commodity system to find superior coffee. But, Ms. Blumhardt said, those companies are too big to comb over every bean in every sack the way some direct-trade companies do. Starbucks bought more than 300 million pounds of coffee last year; Intelligentsia, the biggest of this group, bought 2 million pounds.

    Sometimes roasters find coffee farms through serendipity. Peter Giuliano, co-owner and director of coffee for Counter Culture Coffee, spoke with palpable excitement about stumbling upon a Central American farm planted with geishas, a plant known to yield especially high quality beans. (This year, Esmeralda Especial, a Panamanian coffee produced exclusively from geisha beans, earned the highest price ever paid in a coffee auction.)

    More often, roasters connect with growers through tasting competitions. The most prestigious of these are the annual Cup of Excellence competitions, now organized in eight coffee-growing countries by a United States-based nonprofit group, an event Mr. Prince of Coffeegeek calls “Coffee’s Olympics.” These blind-tasting competitions take as long as 10 days, after which the organizers auction the coffees online to bidders around the world, who compete fiercely for the beans.

    Mr. Sorenson recently spent more than $100,000 for a batch of coffee beans that took top honors at this year’s Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence competition. The coffee, from Las Golondrinas, Marcio Benjamín Peralta Paguaga’s farm in Nicaragua, sold for $47.06 a pound, just shy of $40 more than the winner earned last year. But for Mr. Sorenson, who said the unusual “mango, peach, cantaloupe and jasmine flower” flavors made it the finest Nicaraguan coffee he had ever tasted, it was worth it.

    Counter Culture started buying from Finca Mauritania, Aída Batlle’s farm on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador, after the farm’s coffee won attention at the 2003 Cup of Excellence in El Salvador. After working with Ms. Batlle for a few years, visiting the farm regularly and sampling beans produced under a range of conditions, Mr. Giuliano has asked her to pick the coffee berries when “half the fruit is at a burgundy red ripeness and the rest when it’s bright red,” a mix that Mr. Giuliano says yields just the right sweetness in a finished cup. (Counter Culture supplies the house blends for two of New York City’s most highly regarded cafes, Café Grumpy and Ninth Street Espresso.)

    One of the most effective methods of encouraging change turns out to be as simple as sharing a few cups of coffee with the people who grow it. Obvious as it seems, this was far from common practice until about 10 years ago.

    Mr. Watts said that cupping (coffee lingo for the formal, multistep tasting process used to evaluate quality) can help growers understand what a buyer is looking for. “There has to be a real financial incentive for every incremental improvement in quality, but it can’t be mysterious,” he said. “It has to be objective. The grower has to have every reason to believe that his investment in his farm is an investment in himself, not just him doing what some crazy American wants him to. And when they have the same evaluative skills that we do, they can taste their coffees and know what they could be worth.”

    Direct trade relationships typically mean that the roaster guarantees to pay well more than the going Fair Trade price for coffees that meet an agreed-upon standard based on a cupping scale. If the coffees score above that standard, growers earn even more.

    Cuppings also help roasters select the best of the already very good coffees they will offer their customers. On his most recent visit to Finca El Puente, a coffee farm in the mountainous southwestern corner of Honduras, Mr. Giuliano tasted his way through 68 tiny batches of coffee. The beans were separated by the section of the farm on which they were grown, the way a winery might segregate grapes by vineyard, and by when they were picked.

    The cupping gave the Caballero family, which owns Finca El Puente, a look into the qualities Mr. Giuliano values in a finished cup so they can trace those qualities back to a particular patch of land, or a type of coffee shrub, or a degree of ripeness at picking time. For his part, Mr. Giuliano got the chance to pick the best lots for this year’s El Puente blend. Any batch that was particularly exceptional he would pay more for, roast separately and sell at a premium as a “micro-lot.”

    Mr. Howell recently cupped through a selection of beans with Alejandro Cadena from Virmax, a quality-minded Colombian exporter. Mr. Cadena had brought beans sorted by size to explore the effect of bean size on a finished cup. Mr. Howell has found that smaller beans from Brazil have brighter acidity than larger beans. But bean size had no discernible effect on Mr. Cadena’s Colombian coffees, a finding Mr. Howell attributed to the mixed varieties of coffee plants used by the tiny farms Virmax represents.

    Cupping is also a way of pinpointing where in the production or importing chain even the most extraordinary coffees can be damaged. At a recent cupping at his headquarters in Acton, Mr. Howell demonstrated some of the dangers. Coffee that had spent too long in a jute bag, for instance, was contrasted with some that was stored in plastic.

    Sometimes simple conversation ends up making an impact on the finished coffee and on the people who grow it. On a trip to Rwanda in 2006, Mr. Sorenson asked one of the farmers in the Koakaka Koperative y’Abanhinzi Ya Kawa Ya Karaba — a cooperative that supplies him with the Rwandan beans he sells as “Karaba” — what Stumptown could do to help him improve his coffees.

    “He — his name is Innocent — said a bike would help him with transportation of ripe cherry to the mills,” Mr. Sorenson said, using the term for the fruit that contains the coffee bean. “Which would improve the coffee’s quality, since coffee needs to be milled within hours of picking.” Coffee berries that sit in the sun can ferment, yielding off flavors that can taint a batch of beans.

    After returning from the trip, Mr. Sorenson started a nonprofit group called Bikes to Rwanda. This April, 400 bikes specially engineered for carrying heavy loads of coffee over hilly Rwandan terrain were delivered to the cooperative just in time for the harvest.

    Though altruism played a part in that effort, Mr. Sorenson said he sees paying high prices for beans and treating his growers as partners as the only way to get the quality he wants. “It’s not charity,” he said. “Our producers invest back into their workers, coffee shrubs, equipment and land. We know this is happening because of all the time we spend with them throughout the year, on their farms and in their homes.”

    But it’s not a point he feels the need to argue stridently, because the proof — for anyone to taste — is in the cup.

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Below, a sidebar to the Times article.

    Hot Java, for a Cool $40 (or Less) a Half-Pound

    Here are some representative coffees from the leading direct-trade roasting companies:

    Counter Culture Finca El Puente ($10.65 per 12 ounces), from a single farm in Marcala, Honduras, goes by the nickname “the purple princess” for its exceptional dark fruit flavors: counterculturecoffee.com; (888) 238-5282.

    Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters and Tea Traders Los Delirios ($12.95 per pound) is an organic coffee from a farm in Nicaragua whose offerings have won or placed in every Cup of Excellence competition held in that country: intelligentsiacoffee.com; (888) 945-9786.

    Stumptown Coffee Roasters Las Golindrinas ($40 per half-pound) won Nicaragua’s Cup of Excellence competition this year. Rwanda Karaba “E” Lot ($15.25 per pound) comes from the cooperative that inspired Stumptown’s owner, Duane Sorenson, to start the Bikes to Rwanda program: buystumptowncoffee.com; (503) 230-7797.

    George Howell Coffee Company Daterra Farm Special Reserve ($13.95 per 12 ounces) is shipped from Brazil in vacuum-sealed Mylar bags to ensure a clean, fresh taste: terroircoffee.com; (866) 444-5282.

September 16, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Trey Chair: One seat becomes two

That's different.

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From the website:
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Trey — More than a chair

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Trey is a multifunction chair like no other.

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Trey serves well as a comfortable desk chair but also transforms into a rocker with an extra seat for a friend, a foot stool, laptop desk or side table.

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Trey is great for apartment living or any place where living quarters are a little tight.
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$239-$299.

September 16, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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