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May 8, 2008

World-renowned violinist Philippe Quint — He played real good for free

Richard G. Jones, in yesterday's New York Times, wrote about how world-renowned violinist Philippe Quint, on April 21, 2008, left his $4 million Stradivarius in the back seat of a New York City taxicab on his return to Manhattan from a concert in Dallas.

Several hours later the violin turned up at Newark International Airport.

In gratitude, Quint on Tuesday gave a private outdoor violin recital in the taxicab holding area at Newark Airport (top) for a group of about 50 cabdrivers.

An audio slide show accompanied the article, which follows.

    Cabdriver Thanked for Returning a Stradivarius

    The violinist stood on a makeshift stage between two lampposts crowned with a patina of bird droppings, under a weathered vinyl canopy hastily erected outside Newark Liberty International Airport in the taxicab holding area. The audience watched him in awe, about 50 drivers in three rows, their yellow cabs a few feet behind, some lined up neatly, others askew.

    As Philippe Quint spent half an hour playing five selections, the cabbies clapped and whistled. They danced in the aisles, hips gyrating like tipsy belly dancers. “Magic fingers, magic fingers,” one called out. Another grabbed the hand of Mr. Quint’s publicist and did what looked like a merengue across the front of the “stage.”

    Afterward, the virtuoso was mobbed by drivers seeking his autograph on dollar bills, napkins and cab receipts.

    “It was so pleasing to see people dancing — that never happens,” said Mr. Quint, 34, a Grammy-nominated classical violinist. “These people, they work so hard, I doubt they get a chance to get out to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.”

    So Mr. Quint took Carnegie Hall to them, in a miniconcert that was his way of expressing a simple sentiment: Thank you.

    On April 21, Mr. Quint accidentally left a Stradivarius violin, valued at $4 million, in the back seat of a cab that he took from the airport to Manhattan on his return from a performance in Dallas. After several frantic hours, the Newark police told him the violin had been found and was at the airport taxi stand with the cabdriver who had taken him home. The two connected, and the violin was returned.

    “Anybody out here would have done the same thing,” said the driver, Mohammed Khalil, waving a hand at his laughing, dancing colleagues.

    The city of Newark awarded Mr. Khalil, who has driven a taxi here since 1985, a Medallion, its highest honor. Mr. Quint gave him a $100 tip when the violin was returned, but he wanted to do more, so he arranged for Tuesday’s concert in a parking-lot-turned-theater.

    Clad in black, with his dark hair falling over his closed eyes, Mr. Quint dazzled the crowd with a theme from the movie “The Red Violin”; Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So”; a Paganini Variation; and the Meditation from Massenet’s opera “Thaïs.” Joined by his friend Michael Bacon, a guitarist (and the brother of the actor Kevin Bacon), Mr. Quint played a piece they had composed, “Seduction Blues.”

    On the horizon, there was the blocky spire that was the air traffic control tower. Every now and then a seagull would alight on one of the trailers where the cabbies play dominoes during their wait for fares. Occasionally, a silhouetted plane would glide by overhead, providing a rumbling accompaniment to the music.

    But despite the setting — or maybe because of it — Mr. Quint’s audience seemed particularly moved by his gesture.

    “I like that he came here,” Ebenezer Sarpeh, 46, said, in the accent of his native Ghana. “And, yeah, the music, I like it.”

    It was Mr. Sarpeh who burst into spontaneous applause on several occasions and started yelling “magic fingers” during one particularly deft moment. Later, he took a turn in front of the stage and his fellow cabdrivers laughed and cheered while he shimmied and moonwalked, the Newark Taxi Cab Association’s answer to Justin Timberlake.

    Like many of the cabdrivers in attendance, Mr. Sarpeh said it was the first recital by a classical violinist that he had ever attended. A few confessed that they had little more than a passing familiarity with such music. But they were proud to surround Mr. Khalil, who sat front row center in a black suit with a pink shirt and matching tie.

    “If one cabby does something good, we feel like we all do something good,” said Patrick Cosmeus, 43, who has been driving for a decade and seemed a little sheepish as he admitted that he had seldom found anything more valuable than a forgotten cellphone in his taxi. “But everything we find, we always return it,” he added.

    “Everything we find is valuable to someone,” Mr. Khalil pointed out. “If you lost your pen, you would think it was valuable.”

    The violin that Mr. Quint left behind, which had been lent by two benefactors, was still being inspected for any problems from its journey, so he played the Tuesday program on a Guarneri.

    Afterward, Mr. Quint posed for photographs with Mr. Khalil, whom he has also invited to a September concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. As he signed autographs, he retold the story of his lost violin and its triumphant return.

    “He saw how distressed I was,” Mr. Quint said of Mr. Khalil. “He just gave it back to me and he noticed I was in no condition to go home by myself. So he said, ‘Why don’t I give you a ride home?’ I said, ‘No, no, it’s OK, I’ll take a bus, I’ll take another taxi. He said, ‘No, I’m happy to give you a ride back, because you’re my last customer.’”

    As he had planned for months, Mr. Khalil retired from driving a cab the day he took Mr. Quint home.

May 8, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack



Terri Sapienza, reviewing this item in today's Washington Post Home section, wrote, "Our vote for the most clever summer item so far goes to Grandin Road's Outdoor Half-Umbrella."

From the website:

    Outdoor Half-Umbrella

    Our innovative Outdoor Half-Umbrella is the perfect shade over a door, on a balcony or along walls or windows.

    This patio umbrella is great for anywhere you want to add shade without taking up too much space.

    • Sturdy base keeps the half-canopy flush against any vertical surface — no attachment needed!

    • Champagne-toned, powder-coated aluminum frame, pole and base stand up to the elements with ease

    • Richly colored Outdura™ canopies resist fading in the hot sun

    • Easy-to-operate crank makes opening and closing a breeze



Neptune (Blue), Paprika (Red), Citron (Green), Ivory, Antique Beige, Kona (Brown).

Umbrella (9'H x 9.5'W x 4.5'D): $299.

Base (40 lbs.): $99.

Both here.

May 8, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The secret of success — Think process, not just product

James Surowiecki, the New Yorker's financial columnist, offers more useful information in his one-page essays than most business books in their entirety.

This week's (May 12, 2008) is especially good.

He considers how and why it is that though Toyota openly shares its methods and procedures — "Toyota opens its facilities to tours, and even embarked on a joint venture with G.M. designed, in part, to help G.M. improve its own production system," G.M. and its U.S. brethren keep falling further and further behind.

Maybe it's because "Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers. (Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do."

Yeah, that might have something to do with it.

Here's the piece.

    The Open Secret of Success

    In the current atmosphere of economic tumult, the announcement that Toyota sold a hundred and sixty thousand more cars than General Motors in the first three months of this year might seem like a minor news item. But it may very well signal the end of one of the most remarkable runs in business history. For seventy-seven years, in good times and bad, G.M. has sold more cars annually than any other company in the world. But Toyota has long been the auto industry’s most profitable and innovative firm. And this year it appears likely to become, finally, the industry’s sales leader, too.

    Calling Toyota an innovative company may, at first glance, seem a bit odd. Its vehicles are more liked than loved, and it is often attacked for being better at imitation than at invention. Fortune, which typically praises the company effusively, has labelled it “stodgy and bureaucratic.” But if Toyota doesn’t look like an innovative company it’s only because our definition of innovation—cool new products and technological breakthroughs, by Steve Jobs-like visionaries—is far too narrow. Toyota’s innovations, by contrast, have focussed on process rather than on product, on the factory floor rather than on the showroom. That has made those innovations hard to see. But it hasn’t made them any less powerful.

    At the core of the company’s success is the Toyota Production System, which took shape in the years after the Second World War, when Japan was literally rebuilding itself, and capital and equipment were hard to come by. A Toyota engineer named Taiichi Ohno turned necessity into virtue, coming up with a system to get as much as possible out of every part, every machine, and every worker. The principles were simple, even obvious—do away with waste, have parts arrive precisely when workers need them, fix problems as soon as they arise. And they weren’t even entirely new—Ohno himself cited Henry Ford and American supermarkets as inspirations. But what Toyota has done, better than any other manufacturing company, is turn principle into practice. In some cases, it has done so with inventions, like the andon cord, which any worker can pull to stop the assembly line if he notices a problem, or kanban, a card system that allows workers to signal when new parts are needed. In other cases, it has done so by reorganizing factory floors and workspaces in order to allow for a freer and easier flow of parts and products. Most innovation focusses on what gets made. Toyota reinvented how things got made, which enabled it to build cars faster and with less labor than American companies.

    But there’s an enigma to the Toyota Production System: although the system has been widely copied, Toyota has kept its edge over its competitors. Toyota opens its facilities to tours, and even embarked on a joint venture with G.M. designed, in part, to help G.M. improve its own production system. Over the years, more than three thousand books and articles have analyzed how the company works, and things like andon systems are now common sights on factory floors. The diffusion of Toyota’s concepts has had a real effect; the auto industry as a whole is far more productive than it used to be. So how has Toyota stayed ahead of the pack?

    The answer has a lot to do with another distinctive element of Toyota’s approach: defining innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis. (The principle is often known by its Japanese name, kaizen—continuous improvement.) Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it’s taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible. According to Matthew E. May, the author of a book about the company called “The Elegant Solution,” Toyota implements a million new ideas a year, and most of them come from ordinary workers. (Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as U.S. companies do.) Most of these ideas are small—making parts on a shelf easier to reach, say—and not all of them work. But cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before.

    The system doesn’t necessarily preclude missteps—in 2006, Toyota ran into a series of quality problems—and it’s possible that the focus on incremental innovation would be less well suited to businesses driven by large technological leaps. But, on the whole, the results are hard to argue with. They’re also phenomenally difficult to duplicate. In part, this is because most companies are still organized in a very top-down manner, and have a hard time handing responsibility to front-line workers. But it’s also because the fundamental ethos of kaizen—slow and steady improvement—runs counter to the way that most companies think about change. Corporations hope that the right concept will turn things around overnight. This is what you might call the crash-diet approach: starve yourself for a few days and you’ll be thin for life. The Toyota approach is more like a regular, sustained diet—less immediately dramatic but, as everyone knows, much harder to sustain. In the nineteen-nineties, a McKinsey study of companies that had put quality-improvement programs in place found that two-thirds abandoned them as failures. Toyota’s innovative methods may seem mundane, but their sheer relentlessness defeats many companies. That’s why Toyota can afford to hide in plain sight: it knows the system is easy to understand but hard to follow.....................

    I'm reminded of Fran Lebowitz's (or was it Eve Babitz, it's been such a long time...) wonderful epigram, to wit: "I'm easy to please, but hard to satisfy."

    May 8, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    Telephonic Sheep — by Jean-Luc Cornec


    Sheep made from telephone parts,


    exhibited in the


    Frankfurt Museum of Communications in 2004.

    [via reBlog, cualquiera, Eyeteeth, and J-Walk]

    May 8, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (61) | TrackBack

    eBay still doesn't get it


    Every now and then, but as infrequently as possible, perhaps once a year, I buy something on eBay that I can't find anywhere else.

    Like the transparent Post-Its featured in yesterday's 1:01 p.m. post.

    And every time I do, I'm reminded of why I repeat this behavior as infrequently as possible.

    eBay's "Buy It Now" feature is the Bizarro World equivalent of Amazon's One-Click.

    It involves innumerable screens, clicks and pages, confusing instructions, a terrible interface and, worst of all, the need to invoke PayPal as part of the process.

    It is no surprise to me that eBay is fading.

    While it may be heaven to frequent users, to the TechnoDolts™ among us — comprising, I would guess, about 98% of the population — eBay is unusable.

    See ya next year.

    May 8, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Zip Bag — by Thomas Heatherwick


    From his website:

    Zip Bag

    As the zips in garments and accessories are normally quite short, it struck Heatherwick Studio as funny that zipper is manufactured and sold in lengths of 200 metres. The studio began experimenting with ways of making objects, dresses and accessories from long pieces of this zipper.


    The project developed into a bag in collaboration with Longchamp, the French family company which has been manufacturing luxury leather goods since 1948.

    Zip Bag is an apparently plain leather handbag which when unzipped doubles in size and reveals a spiral of colour. It went into production in 2003 and was launched at London's Design Museum, becoming a bestseller for Longchamp.


    At Longchamp stores everywhere.

    May 8, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    This is not a car hanger expander


    Am I the only one who thought that the second (above) of the three photos illustrating Tuesday's 1:01 p.m. post could almost have been painted by René Magritte?

    I am?


    May 8, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Limited Edition Mercedes-Benz SLR Roadster


    "Powered by a supercharged 5.5 liter, 617 hp, 0-60 in 3.8 sec AMG V-8, this carbon-fiber body with 19" turbine wheels screams at a top speed of 206 mph."


    "Blends Formula 1 motor racing credentials with a fully-retractable, semi-automatic soft top for a whole new dimension in Gran Turismo roadsters."

    "One of only 12 Pure Black models in the U.S., with swing-wing door design, red leather, and Anthracite Black top."


    "Available for immediate delivery."

    You know the drill — if you have to ask....


    Bring it by this afternoon.

    May 8, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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