Archive | January, 2009

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The All-Time Top 10 Scams, Cons, and Tricks: Part Two.

Posted on 31 January 2009 by jordan

Yesterday we hit you up with Part 1 of the finest scams in the world, and now, here, for your enjoyment and future benefit (should you wish to be incarcerated for some time) are the top five greatest scams in the world. Enjoy!

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#5: Don Lapre’s Scam

How it works: This scam falls under the get-rich-quick variety, and means any kind of scam in which a product that essentially does nothing is sold to you with the promise of making you insane amounts of cash. The closest analogy would be those e-books that collect a bunch of easy-to-find, near-useless information online and foist themselves onto suckers as wonderful, amazing opportunities online. You just gotta pony up a bit of cash first.

Why it’s cool: This scam is cool only because Don Lapre is the king of god-I-hate-this-asshole-but-I-can’t-stop-watching-him infomercials. His voice, face, and hair, combined with the insidious ways he tries to convince you that his remarkable plans are full of ways to make money make him an entirely fascinating figure. Kevin Trudeau has got nothing on this asshole. The only dude who comes even close is Billy Mays, except that he’s not really a scam artist as much as an insane salesman, and it’s not Billy Mays as much as his unbelievable beard that make him a king among men. No, Don Lapre is a master with few contemporaries.

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#4: False Good Samaritan Scam

How it works: You need two guys for this one. One guy finds a mark with a stealable purse or wallet. He grabs it, and takes off. The second, playing the good samaritan, gives chase, and gets the “mugger” to drop the wallet or purse. The mugger gets away, of course, and the good samaritan returns the purse to the mark. He hopes for a reward.

Why it’s cool: Strictly for the risk involved. This scam plays on two big ifs: first, that no one else will give chase, in which case the “mugger” is liable to be in a whole load of pain and trouble, and second, that the mark will be generous enough to hand over some cash. It’s a remarkable amount of risk for what would probably be a pretty cursory reward. There’s a better version of this scam in The Wire, when Bubbles finds a guy painting a house, up high on a ladder. He starts shaking the ladder, pretending he’s crazy, and his partner runs up and “scares” him off. For his valiance, he gets a $10 reward from the shaken dude up the ladder.

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#3: Snake Oil Scam

How it works: Claim a product has special powers that are, unfortunately, not provable through empirical methods. Sell product. Take money and flee.

Why it’s cool: This scam is old as anything and has been run countless times, but every time I go into a bookstore I’m still stunned to see Kevin Trudeau’s books on the shelf. The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About is a mix of the Snake Oil and the Don Lapre scam, in that the book is absolutely jam-packed with bullshit claims, many of which require a useless product to be purchased through a false front company run by Trudeau himself. He is selling about 500 varieties of snake oil, and from the looks of it, largely getting away with it.

Not only does he make false claims about food and nutrition in general, which increase his book sales (that’s the Snake Oil part), but if you were to follow every piece of advice in the book, and purchase every suggested product through the channels he recommends, he would personally stand to gain something like 16 million dollars from just you, alone. This man is a god damn genius, and evil.

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#2: The Spanish Prisoner

How it works: This one plays on greed. The original verison is the best: a guy approaches you and claims he knows of a wealthy man imprisoned in Spain. The man can’t reveal his identity, but he has entrusted the con man to go out and raise enough money to try and get him out of prison. The prisoner is exceedingly wealthy, but can’t access any of his own money because he’s currently in prison. If you can just front a bit of cash, you’ll be handsomely rewarded when he finally gets out.

Of course, he never does get out, and an endless number of further complications continue to deprive you of your precious money. Strangely, the complications disappear once all your money has, too. So does the con man, and the prisoner, who never actually existed.

Why it’s cool: The fun part about this scam is the illegitimate money. Since the dude is in a Spanish prison, it already adds an element of foreign intrigue (or once did–now it’s usually set in Nigeria, presumably since we know too much about friendly Spain), and also conveniently ensures that you can never go complaining to the police, since the money you were hoping to get as a reward would have been illegal anyway, sucker.

The modern version of this scam is known as the 419 Scam, named after the area code in Nigeria where most of the scammers, claiming they could get access to the cash of a deposed African King if only you’d wire them a bit of money, originated from. This is a brilliant article on those very scams, probably the finest thing you’ll read on cons ever. You can also check out David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner for a film (with Steve Martin, no less) that features this scam.

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#1: Fiddle Game

How it works: This one is complicated, but kind of amazing. Two con men go into a restaurant, separately. One looks crappy, one looks rich. The crappy one eats his meal, then claims to have left his wallet (all he has, the poor guy) at home. He begs to go home and get it, and he leaves his precious little violin as collateral with the restaurant owner or a sympathetic waiter.

The second con man, feigning great wealth, watches the whole thing go down. He asks to see the violin and claims it’s a Stradivarius, worth thousands. The crappy dude just doesn’t know what he’s got, see? He offers thousands upon thousands of dollars for it, but then realizes he’s got an appointment (see, he’s rich!) and runs off, but not before leaving a business card with the waiter, begging him to call when the crappy dude returns.

The crappy dude comes back, and the waiter or restaurant owner decides to buy the violin for, say, five grand, thinking he’s going to make a killing off that rich dude who left his card. The poor, crappy dude sells the violin, albeit with some trepidation, and then leaves. Of course, the business card is fake. The two con men split the five grand.

Why it’s cool: Again, this is more of a moral lesson than an actual con, but if were ever pulled on someone, damn. What a lesson. Don’t be greedy, see? It’ll only make you lose five thousand dollars.

Missed anything? Check out Part 1 for the top scams #10 through #6.

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The All-Time Top 10 Scams, Cons, and Tricks: Part One.

Posted on 31 January 2009 by jordan

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Wikipedia is full of wonders. There are pages on there that will give you more information than is ever humanly necessary on the most useless tripe in the world, and then there are pages like this one. It’s called a “List of Confidence Tricks“. Confidence, of course, being the source of the short-form con, as in con man or you are getting conned as I speak.

Turns out history is just full of great cons, and as we all know, they continue right up to this very day. There’s a sucker born every minute, they say. Or someone once said, somewhere. Chances are a loved one or friend is getting conned right now, on the street in front of your building. Seriously, check it out, I don’t think that guy actually works for UNICEF, man.

Why scams? Well, the best cons are brilliant. They bring us back into touch with the seedier side of the world, with the villainy that exists out there and wants our cash. But there’s more than that: the con artist is part of a long tradition of hucksters and tricksters, going right back to the devil himself. See, the best cons do the following things:

  1. Teach us a moral lesson.
  2. Show their genius only in retrospect.
  3. Represent significant risk for the con artist.
  4. Take all your god damn money.

So: What are the best cons in the world, in any context? We took a look at some of the top selections, and here, we give you our thoughts. Remember, the con man is often referred to as an artist, and the intended victim is the mark. That’s it–you’ve now mastered the con-man’s lexicon; let’s go.

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#10: Salting the Mine

How it works: Putting gold or other precious minerals around the superficial part of a dig site in order to convince prospectors that a mine contains a ton of gold, see? You just gotta dig it out!

Why it’s cool: This has become a kind of metaphorical scam, since no one is really wandering around the west, looking for gold to pan anymore. But what a metaphor it is, especially when you read that scammers used to load shotguns with gold dust and fire them into the sides of mines. Just think about any false investment, anything that appears too good to be true from the outside, like an amazing investment account. Just think of Bernard Madoff loading up a shotgun with shells full of consistent 10% returns and firing it at his balance sheets, hoping no one would notice the suspicious pockmarks next to all the precious gold. What a metaphor, right? No, really, it’s genius, I tell you. Plus, Deadwood used this one, so, suck on that.

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#9: The Ponzi Scheme

How it works: This one is simple, and if you’ve read anything about the aforementioned Bernard Madoff you probably already know how this works. At its simplest: take money from people, promise amazing rates of return, keep finding new investors while you blow through the cash. If anyone asks for their money back, give it to them. The whole scam relies on few enough people wanting their cash, and many people wanting to invest. Once that situation changes, you’re completely screwed.

Why it’s cool: Only because a 50-billion-dollar fraud seems to be an unbelievably high amount for what is essentially a scheme that nearly all of us have heard about. This guy was printing out his account statements using dot-matrix printers and an accounting firm with about 3 employees that no one else used. And no one (!) caught on, except for the few that did and couldn’t prove anything. For anyone who ever said big, long-running, but ultimately simplistic-as-hell scams are impossible in today’s complicated world of finance, meet Mr. Madoff.

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#8: The Gold Brick Scam

How it works: Paint a brick gold. Find idiot. Sell brick to idiot. Run.

Why it’s cool: Because you can do this with broken TVs, too, and in a wonderful bit of poetic justice, pay tribute to the original scam by loading the TV down with bricks. Hell, paint them gold just to drive the point home a bit further, like you’re some kind of comic-book villain. So: if you ever find some dudes selling you a TV in a parking lot, don’t buy it. You can’t report it to the police because they’ll scold you for trying to buy stolen goods, and you can’t get your revenge on the guys that sold it to you because they will probably beat you up real good. Even if the TV turns on, or the speakers seem to work, you probably shouldn’t bother. There’s always a catch somewhere.

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#7: Melon Drop

How it works: Find a Japanese tourist who is used to paying exorbitant amounts for watermelon, if such a tourist exists. Bump into him or her with a cheap watermelon in hand. Drop watermelon, begin screaming, and demand money from tourist. Rely on her bad english and cultural sense of propriety in order to extract the most amount of money possible, you asshole, you.

Why it’s cool: This scam is still being done today, only with a different variety: a couple with a baby walks by a gullible university student in New York. They drop a knapsack. Something breaks inside, and the husband will claim that it’s medicine for the baby. Angrily. The student is so mortified that he instantly agrees to be accompanied to the nearest ATM, where he gets out the appropriate amount of cash and pays the (distraught) parents. Repeat 10x. Check out this New Yorker piece for proof.

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#6: Barred Winner Scam

How it works: Show up at a Las Vegas casino, find a man outside with a big handful of chips. “See, I won big, but they ejected me from the casino cause I offended a waitress. Now I can’t cash my chips!” You, fine upstanding person you are, offer to cash the chips for this poor soul, who promises you $100 as a reward. But wait–he demands a little collateral. What if you’re gonna scam him, see? He’s gotta be careful! Ah, OK, no problem, here’s your credit card, watch, whatever. He’ll hold on to that, you’ll cash the chips, and you’ll both meet back here in 10 minutes.

The chips, of course, are completely fake, and your watch, of course, is completely gone.

Why it’s cool: This one relies on you not asking too many questions–a hallmark of most quick scams. The more questions you ask and insurance you seek, the more the scam will fall apart. Why can’t he cash the chips tomorrow? Why can’t he file a complaint with the casino? Why can’t he call a lawyer, if he’s got so much cash coming to him? All these inquiries, and many more, will seem obvious to you after he’s run off with your wallet, and you’re left sitting on the curb, contemplating the next four days in Las Vegas with no money.

Click Here for Part 2: the Top 5 cons of all time!

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It’s Super Bowl Time, Everybody

Posted on 30 January 2009 by jordan

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It’s finally here, the biggest televised sporting event of the year, the one where various companies still manage to scrounge up amounts nearing three million dollars for a single 30-second televised spot, recession be damned. It’s the Super Bowl.

Now, this year we’ve got what is sure to be a fine match between the Pittsburg Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, but rather than give you a tired run-down of my predicitions for the game and bored, uninformed reflections on the NFL season that has come and gone, wouldn’t everyone just be a hell of a lot happier if we showed you the best Super Bowl things online right now? The sneak previews for new commercials, some of the best ads from years gone by, gorgeous cheerleaders, the ultimate man’s recipe for Super Bowl Sunday, and the like? Sure.

Mysteries of the Yellow First-Down Line.

First, a video: undoubtedly one of the best things to happen to televised football coverage over the past several years is the digital first down line. There is literally nothing in any other sport that has so changed the enjoyment of TV coverage. Directly out of a Madden video game, that beautiful big yellow line added an unforseen element of clarity and comprehension to a sometimes confusing mess of slamming bodies and helmets. Now when you see that running back perform a stunning jump over two tacklers, only to dive, arms outstretched, for that last inch, you know exactly why the man is doing it. You’ve got a big yellow line showing you. Here’s a video that explains just how they get that line to show up.

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The Hottest Super Bowl Commercials Ever.

And then the commercials. Where would we be without those precious commercials? Here we’ve got the top 10 sexiest ads, which is all we need, really. Cars and internet startups be damned:

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An Old Logo for a Sort-of New Game.

Next, the New York Times rounded up some designers and had them try their hand at redesigning the Super Bowl Logo to make it more contemporary. A few of them aren’t bad, some are pretty forgettable or generally un-usable, but then there’s the super-minimalist one of Aaron Draplin, which is uniformly awesome. Imagine if they took this and branded everything with it? It’s like an amazing old Atari game graphic.

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And Of Course We Can’t Forget the Cheerleaders. Please, We Simply Can Not.

What would a Super Bowl post be without some cheerleaders? Here are just a few of the best from the past season.

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Eat Pork, Pork, and More Pork on Sunday. It’s both a Right and an Obligation.

Apparently this absolutely insane recipe has been making the rounds in preparation for Sunday. Just look at this damn thing. That’s a bed of bacon, filled with sausage, and wrapped. Pound for pound it looks like the fattest thing in history, which means you are virtually obligated to make it on Sunday. 5000 calories and 500 grams of fat later, you will be in heaven, also known as some kind of emergency room. It’s called the Bacon Explosion:

The instructions for constructing this massive torpedo-shaped amalgamation of two pounds of bacon woven through and around two pounds of sausage and slathered in barbecue sauce first appeared last month on the Web site of a team of Kansas City competition barbecuers.

The Negative Side of Super Bowl Week is Here to Teach Us Valuable Life Lessons.

And we’ve got Esquire’s list of the top Super Bowl week disasters, and boy oh boy is it full of some classics. Who can forget Adrian Awasom’s DUI last year:

Awasom was sent home prior to the Giants’ upset of the Patriots, did not get to experience the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, and is currently not on an NFL roster.

Or Stanley Wilson in 1989, found in his hotel room, out of his mind on cocaine just the night before?

“The player was sweating and shivering. White powder flecked his nose and upper lip. The devil was back, for good.” Wilson was left off the active roster for the game and kicked out of the league forever.

Get more of them here, and pray nothing similar befalls (or has already befallen) a Steeler or Cardinal this week.

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John Updike, 1932-2009.

Posted on 28 January 2009 by jordan

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Usually, I tell people there are four, maybe five living American writers who can safely be considered the best, the greatest, the most talented. Philip Roth, Don Delilo, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and John Updike. The number of living legends is now securely down to four, as Updike died today at the age of 76, of lung cancer. He published 40 books throughout his lifetime, a remarkably prolific amount. If you’re new to Updike, there are a couple places to start: the Rabbit series, or the short stories.

Comparable to Philip Roth’s Zuckerman saga in its audacious desire to cover a seemingly vast amount of American experience, Updike’s Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom novels (there are four of them, all incredible, with Rabbit Redux and Rabbit at Rest standing slightly above the other two) chronicle the life, thoughts, feelings, smart and stupid decisions, affairs, aging, and ultimate death of an American everyman, the former basketball star turned used car salesman.

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It’s impossible to go into exactly what makes that series of books so incredible, except to say that if you ever wanted to understand even a little bit of what the average suburban American male aging throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s felt like, thought about; or simply what it felt like to be around during that time, an observer, someone living, Updike is the one to turn to. It’s not just a slice of life from a specific moment, it is literally the famous middle-American experience captured better, in more detail, than anywhere else, by anyone else. Ah, and as every other obituary will surely mention: he wrote about sex, he did it often, and he did it very well.

Ever, in a fleeting moment while you’re yelling back at MSNBC, try to understand the generational makeup that lies behind the culture war? You could do a hell of a lot worse than pick up Nixonland and the Rabbit quadrilogy. Read them all back-to-back and call it a university-level seminar in boomer mentality. Says David Lipsky: “The Vietnam-era “Rabbit Redux” gives a better sense of what 1969 America felt like than any book — not to mention movies, TV shows or straight history. From the beginning Updike set himself the task of recording every input a fairly ordinary, ordinarily lucky middle-class person might be expected to log over a seventy-year life. In this, he had no serious competition for four decades.”

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But all this wouldn’t amount to much if it weren’t for his writing, which happens to be compulsively readable, easy to get lost in; a pleasure. There are scenes in his books that I still remember years later, characters who remain terribly vivid long after I’ve put the book down.

If you’re not the type to jump into a four-novel series, grab The Early Stories: 1953 – 1975. After reading so many of his novels, it’s a pleasure to return to one of the masters of the form, and this collection is phenomenal. There’s a specific tone to these stories that dozens of other writers try to capture; some come close, but the best of Updike will always stand on its own as truly his.

One thing that always illuminates our impressions is a writer’s description of how he or she works, and Updike is no exception. These glimpses into a workday don’t just serve to inspire other writers, they give us an idea of how an author functions, how a person we rely upon and ask to deliver a word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence chronicle of our daily lives goes about putting this into practice.

I’ve always been fascinated by how Updike worked, and pictured him sitting at his desk outside of Boston, smoking away, reaching his daily word limit, and then spending the rest of his time writing his wonderful criticism or a series of hilarious letters. For some reason that thought has always reassured me, and every time I crack a New Yorker to find a new essay or–even better–a new short story, or see his latest novel on the shelves, I’m reassured once more.

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Here he is, in his own words, talking about a routine that finally came to an end today:

I’m a slow writer who works rather short hours.

I was reading last night about Hawthorne working all day when he was doing “The Scarlet Letter.” Other writers mention 10-hour days. And you read of fantastic word rates that writers achieve — 5,000 words a day.

When I set out, I decided that about 1,000 words a day would be a good quota. … My working day generally goes from about 9 to 1, when I get hungry.

Maintaining this modest demand on myself has produced, as you say, a fair number of books.

And a second reflection, this one tinged with his recent, self-aware mortality:

I have no reason not to go to my desk after breakfast and work there until lunch. So, I work three or four hours in the morning, and it’s not all covering blank paper with beautiful phrases. You begin by answering a letter or two. There’s a lot of junk in your life as a writer and most people have junk in their lives. But, I try to give about three hours to the project at hand and to move it along. There’s a danger if you don’t move it along steadily that you’re going to forget what it’s about, so you must keep in touch with it I figure. So once embarked, yes, I do try to stick to a schedule. I’ve been maintaining this schedule off and on — well, really since I moved up to Ipswich in ’57. It’s a long time to be doing one thing. I don’t know how to retire. I don’t know how to get off the horse, though. I still like to do it. I still love books coming out. I love the smell of glue and the shiny look of the jacket and the type, and to see your own scribbles turned into more or less impeccable type. It’s still a great thrill for me, so I will probably persevere a little longer.

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Style and the Sartorialist

Posted on 26 January 2009 by jordan

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Buying clothes can be a drag.

Sometimes you wake up and take a look at whatever piece of clothing you’re about to throw on in the morning and just think “what the hell is this?” We’ve all been there, trapped with our own limited wardrobes, budgets, or lack of style into wearing something that just doesn’t send us out into the world being the best man we could be.

Some days you feel like changing everything.

And there are days when a certain urge takes over, a certain need to start ramping up one’s clothing-related effort and finally vault one’s self into the world of formal, classic menswear. It usually doesn’t last, what due to monetary or time constraints, but it’s there, that need, when you glance at someone who wears a suit or pair of fine Italian shoes without the slightest hint of work-related obligation in their comportment, and you think “ah, damn, I could pull that off if I just had the tools to put it all together.”

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Dressing properly is harder than it looks. Damn.

Like a lot of complicated things one needs to do every day (cooking, working, driving, conversing), the skill of dressing properly isn’t simple. What appears straightforward is actually a series of small decisions, each one requiring step-by-step contemplation, depending on a pre-existing structure. If you don’t have such a structure (a solid, interlinked wardrobe, say), the process becomes disjointed and difficult.

So, for those of us already with jobs that require a certain amount of formal dress, who want to branch out and pull that elegance into our outside-of-work lives, or for those of us still languishing in our dress-like-a-teenager mode but looking for a fount of inspiration to knock us out of our bewildered post-college hangover, let us present the site for you: The Sartorialist.

A remarkably easy solution for understanding how to wear things well.

A suggestion: subscribe to the Sartorialist, look at its updates every day, and occasionally read the comments. Bookmark whatever post you particularly like the look of. When it’s time to go clothes shopping, no matter where you’re heading off to, take these images with you. Print them out, put them on your iPhone, whatever; you need a visual reminder of what you’re going for.

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Now, a lot of the Sartorialist’s posts feature men in Milan, a city in which it’s remarkably easy to find an extremely elegeant dude on a bicycle any day of the week. But that doesn’t mean you’ll look out of place in any attempt to follow their lead. The best thing about this site is the lack of strong commentary: Scott Schuman is a remarkably positive guy and the general tone and lightness of the site is, I think, one of the reasons it’s got such a following.

A positive and non-insider view of men’s fashion.

Just try and find this kind of happy touch anywhere else in the fashion industry. You won’t, and this is part of the reason why a lot of guys simply ignore anything to do with men’s fashion: the tone is entirely alien. I can’t sit down and read long articles about this year’s trends because they assume I’m already in the loop, already attuned to last year’s trends and their larger dissipation into the world, when fashion is actually somewhat down the list on artistic subjects I like to keep an eye on.

Timeless men’s fashion isn’t so inaccessible, after all.

Since Schumann and his blog, besides occasionally pointing to examples of fine, modern fashion, also like to highlight what is, for lack of a better phrase, a ‘timeless elegance’ in mens-and-womens’ wear, the site, unlike almost any other fashion publication around, never feels too new or conversely too dated, and most importantly, too inside to bother reading. Every post on the Sartorialist gives something back in its information, its fine, unassuming photography, and its gentle admonition towards a better world of elegant dress out there. It’s easily attainable, especially with clear, good sources like this one.

All photos copyright The Sartorialist.

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Gadgets: Why Netbooks are Essential

Posted on 23 January 2009 by jordan

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Why the netbook?

You’ve probably heard about netbooks. Small, light computers with scaled-down components, all running on the Intel Atom chip, a revolutionary CPU introduced not so long ago. This tiny chip allowed manufacturers to cram more things onto a miniscule motherboard without overheating, which meant a radically smaller form factor and lead to an entirely new category of computers.

Of course, there’s a limit to how small these things can get, mainly due to the keyboards, which can’t get much smaller than 80% of a standard keyboard size without becoming painfully unusable. But their current size is incredible–about the same dimensions and weight as a hardcover book.

Reason for Celebration Number 1: The Damn Size.

If you’ve never used or carried one of these around before, let me explain why this is the biggest selling point: you can throw these things into a shoulder bag and still fit a dozen other things in there after. They can fit in your girlfriend’s purse. You can put them in the furthest corner of a suitcase and not worry about losing all the rest of your precious packing space.

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This makes a massive difference in where you choose to take (and take out) your computer. I take subways throughout the day, and while before I would barely carry my 15″-screen Toshiba around with me, let alone pull the damn thing out on the subway, my new Acer Aspire One comes out repeatedly.

Reason for Celebration Number 2: Unbelievably Long Battery Life.

While there are dozens of netbooks out there, the one I finally went with and the one that’s currently tops in the marketplace is undoubtedly the newest Acer Aspire One, which comes with a 160gig HD, Windows XP, and a 6-cell battery, which gives you five hours of usage time (with wi-fi on). Five damn hours!

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That’s the second-biggest selling point on these things. A device you can throw in your bag and take anywhere, combined with virtually no worries about the battery anymore. I can take a train from Rome to Milan without worrying about a charger, and work the entire time, which is something I never expected from a laptop.

Reason for Celebration Number 3: They Don’t Cost So Much.

Third point: the price. This thing cost me $420 canadian dollars, or at the current exchange rate, $332 american dollars, or 260 euros. Sure, the recession has assaulted all of us, kept us shivering in bed, holding our few remaining dollars close to our shrivelled, undernourished bodies, but we can probably part with a few hundred in exchange for something as fine as a netbook.

They’ve Got Some Unforseen Advantages.

Fine, we’ve got size, amazing battery life, and a digestible price. Before I go into a few of the disadvantages of having a netbook (as always, there are a few), let’s run over a few extra, unforseen advantages:

You can install OSX on this thing.

Yep, it’s possible. And it runs just fine. The installation isn’t painless–you’re probably going to have to pop a new, $15 wireless card into it, and mess around with the insanelymac forums for a few hours, but in the end you’ll have yourself a tiny computer that runs OSX. Since apple doesn’t seem likely to be offering a netbook anytime soon (maybe some kind of enclosure for the iPhone would be enough, frankly), this is your next-best solution.

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It’s not perfect–the fan on mine runs constantly, and there are little problems that require lots of forum-searching. But hey, you’ve got a tiny netbook and you’re running an amazing OS on it without any visual hiccups at all. It’s a lot.

You can run heavier applications than expected.

Sure, the Atom is only 1.5Ghz and can’t really do everything, but I’m DJing off this thing with Native Instruments’ Traktor (the latest, greatest version), and thanks to a strange bug in my 2Ghz Toshiba, I’m actually getting better performance from this little netbook than from my normal machine. I’m also running Photoshop CS4 (both in OSX and XP without problems), and while it’s not the fastest Photoshop experience in the world, it’s definitely useable when you need to get something done.

Obviously anyone needing to do some serious graphics work isn’t going to be relying on a machine with an 8-inch screen in the first place, but with the VGA out cable, if you’ve got a nice big LCD handy, this Aspire One will give you a Mac desktop on the fly.

User communities are nice and big.

These things are selling like crazy, so both the Aspire One and MSI Wind communites online are huge, and constantly growing. Any modifications, hacks, or problems you might run into will immediately have some kind of corresponding forum post, or 50. No more desperately searching around to see if there’s someone with your obscure laptop model in the furthest corners of the internet.

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And Yeah, There Are Some Disadvantages.

Ok: the screen gets annoying. It’s 8-inches and doesn’t always fit everything. Full-screen modes in browsers help, hiding the taskbar does too. Anything to increase your useable screen space. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re dealing with something pretty tiny.

And the keyboard can be a hassle too. Mainly in the transition between it and larger ones. It’s no problem after about 15 minutes of usage, but if you’re working all day on a large keyboard and just want 15 minutes on your netbook during your train home, those 15 minutes will probably feature a whole lot of typos. By the time you’re ready to type normally, it’s time to close it down.

But don’t worry. These are small, small disadvantages, nothing compared to the sheer satisfaction of finally being able to carry around a pretty-much-fully-functional computer and not having to think about the weight. Hail thee, glorious netbook. Hail thee.

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The Rise of Extreme Beer

Posted on 22 January 2009 by jordan

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Beer has officially arrived in the United States of America. Sure, this may sound like a strange thing to say in 2009, but it’s true. Today, Americans are living in a time of unfettered access to some of the most interesting beers in history, some of the greatest brewpubs ever opened, and an ever-changing market that is pushing the world of beer in radically different directions.

The best thing about extreme beer and craft brewing: it’s a world of taste, variance, and unbelievable detail, all available to anyone willing. There are no cost restrictions, as most beer remains inexpensive. You can drink what is (or was) considered the best beer in the world, the Westvleteren 12 Abt, for under $20. Because it’s beer, it’s not about aging, so there are no cellars full of vintage brews you’ll never get access too–the finest, by necessity, is the newest.

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And finally, because so many people drink beer as a casual pursuit in itself, at pubs and at home, it’s remarkably easy to ramp up one’s appreciation of the stuff. There are no courses you need to take, no heavy certification that will sap your money and take all your time.

Of all the 21st-century ‘guy’ things you might consciously choose to get into as a hobby or pursuit, beer is one of the most highly rewarding. Cheaper than wine, easier than cooking, bigger than cheese, more fun than poker, more legal than cuban cigars… the list goes on.

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So, where to start? First, for a lay of the land, you can’t get better than Burkhard Bilger’s recent essay in the New Yorker, called A Better Brew. While reviewing the movement from above, he also zooms in upon Sam Calagione and his Dogfish Head Brewery, one of the shining stars of new American beer. He’s been brewing for 13 years, and draws upon ancient (and often strange) traditions when deciding how to form his next beer. Bilger also, like every New Yorker writer worth his/her salt, gives us a series of insights on the history of American beer:

America used to be full of odd beers. In 1873, the country had some four thousand breweries, working in dozens of regional and ethnic styles. Brooklyn alone had nearly fifty. Beer was not only refreshing but nutritious, it was said—a “valuable substitute for vegetables,” as a member of the United States Sanitary Commission put it during the Civil War.

Ah, the famous beer-for-vegetables substitute. Very hard to pull off properly. 150 years ago, of course, people were drinking a hell of a lot more alcohol per person than they do today. Sure, we’ve got binge drinking (ah, damn, they had that too), but the 1800s had all-day, on-the-job drinking. Downing a pint of gin at lunch. Throwing back two strong ones to get you through the afternoon.

Besides a resurgency in the 1960s (unless Mad Men is lying to me), America has always had a conflicted relationship with alcohol. Puritan roots, I say. That’s my answer for every complex question about American history, really. Puritan roots.

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But back to beer: why exactly was there such a dark age in American brewing? Why, for years, was beer dominated by large-scale brewers, with dozens upon dozens of bars only serving one main brand? The answer is industrialization. The same reason why bakeries, butchers, and fruit & vegetable stores disappeared across the US between the 1940s and 1960s is the same reason beer became homogeneous, invariable, boring.

Then came Prohibition, followed hard by industrialization. Beer went from barrel to bottle and from saloon to home refrigerator, and only the largest companies could afford to manufacture and distribute it. A generation raised on Coca-Cola had a hard time readjusting to beer’s bitterness, and brewers diluted their recipes accordingly. In 1953, Miller High Life was dismissed by one competitor as a beer for “women and beginners.” Within a decade, most other beers were just as flavorless.

Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. After finishing the article and calming your ever-increasing desire for a delicious beer, where can you go for more? Here are a few places to start your odyssey into a land of completely accessible snobbishness (the best and most fun kind, of course):

BeerAdvocate.com

Your first stop. Great forums, frequent updates, passionate users.

RateBeer.com

Saw a strange beer on offer in an even stranger brewpub? Find opinions on it here, and leave your own.

Esquire.com’s Best Bars in America

A strong emphasis on bars offering quality beers means this list won’t let you down.

Still need more? Check out this documentary called American Beer, filmed by the guys who later opened Brooklyn’s famous Barcade.

And now, go, drink!

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Budget Flights + Beautiful Mediterranean Women = Your New Paradise

Posted on 14 January 2009 by jordan

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Some eleven years ago a sea-change in travel was heralded and the European skies were opened up, freed of their restrictive monopolies, let loose from the lurch of nationalized, profitless zombies and given over to the travellers. No longer would it be necessary to pay hundreds of dollars (or whatever currency you might have been using before the Euro) to visit another world–thanks to Ryanair, EasyJet, and more recently, a lovely spat of low budget competitors, the continent was finally in reach for us all.

While many of these changes brought negative consequences to bear–overloading of key tourist sites, noise pollution, transport crowding, etc. (there’s a big list)–these are relatively minor in the eyes of the red-blooded, excitable English-speaking male, who is mainly concerned about the greatest fringe benefit of all. Yes, the skies opening did bring out our internal Bruce Chatwins, allowed us to eat better than ever before, and see architectural sites and marvels at a frequency previously reserved only for those damn idle rich.

Lovely and amazing, but not the finest priviledge, no; this specific joy isn’t immediately discernible, but it’s this: budget flights brought us into far, far greater contact with females of the Mediterranean disposition than ever before. Ever. No, they didn’t suddenly become any more accessible as partners or all start speaking English at once–but they were there, living, going about their lives, and suddenly in an average year we could spend a few blissful weeks in their presence.

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Who exactly are we talking about, anyway? What’s so great about the girls that we can’t find at home, or at worst–on DVD’s like Malena, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, or Volver? It’s hard to say, exactly. Old stereotypes don’t apply as much as they help us, however simply, to articulate an idea our fantasizing can run with. Don’t worry–this isn’t heading off to Africa or China with 150-year old imperial ideas about the unreachable, mysterious, and therefore erotic Other, the one we inevitably exploit and oversimplify. No, this is rather about landing for a weekend in Spain, Italy, or Greece, and simply appreciating–with the utmost joy and fervour–what there is to see, what time and chance have done in creating the women that live in these beautiful places.

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Think of it like this: did you see Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s latest film? Scarlett Johansson is in it, and she’s beautiful, so, you know. See it. The entire plot of this fine film was driven by two American women and their inevitable, insane, magnetic attraction towards the Mediterranean Latin-Lover stereotype, played note-perfect by Javier Bardem. All the greatest thrills from the film (besides watching Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johannson make out) came from how effortlessly Bardem was able to work his magic–how he explained exactly how he was going to seduce the girls and then went about doing it with the utmost charm.

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And only on a trip to the Mediterranean can you, faithful male reader, submit yourself (willingly) to this very experience (with the genders reversed), as you allow yourself to be utterly bewitched and smitten by every gorgeous Latin dark-haired beauty that saunters through a piazza, drives by you on a Vespa, or catches your eye while she’s deep in conversation with her other seven, beautiful Spanish friends, their language ensaring you just about as much as their curves and eyes.

Try it–sit at a fountain in one of Rome’s piazzas and watch the girls go by while you slug on a beer. Think of Sofia Loren or Monica Belucci and everything that makes them gorgeous and unique, then try and spot one of the dozens of beautiful Italian girls you’ll see walking by with a hint of those features. Or head off to Madrid, visions of Penelope Cruz hitting your eyes as you turn from the sun, nearly losing your mind at a set of smouldering (and there is no other word) Spanish 20-somethings. Try Greece, and sit on a cafe terrace, eating juicy, plump Kalamata olives while you ponder other things of a similar curvature that keep entering your view.

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Go ahead, let yourself get lost in a language you don’t understand. Use those out-of-date stereotypes to your innocent advantage and get on board a budget flight to somewhere warm. Wile away your vacation in the best way possible. And hey, when you’re done, go and talk to them. Being out of your element can put you on your game like nothing else, and knowing you probably won’t be back at this particular restaurant, piazza, bar, or fountain for years to come is the ultimate motivation. You never know.

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Five Things You Can Start Doing (Today) to Get the Girls, Part 2.

Posted on 13 January 2009 by jordan

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Yesterday we threw out five things you can start doing, today, to slowly-but-surely transform yourself into a fine dude. No tricks, no deceit, just straight up self-improvement in finest Thoreauvian style. The great thing about all these methods is that they work for anyone, at anytime, whatever your level of accomplishment with women is, or with life in general (they also work for females, too, of course). And they’re just plain useful to do in general, so while you scope out gorgeous women on the site, read on for some fine ways on how you can start getting them into your life, if they’re not there already.

These methods, more than any quickly learned game, are the things that will keep your personality going, the things that will make sure that you don’t end up with a wonderful girl at your side and have nothing to offer after some fine pick-up techniques.

First, a side project: read this very short and very excellent short story by Tobias Wolff. See the part where he talks about this:

after he’d really messed things up, and been fucked over, and got lost, and kept going anyway—when this little green soul of his had taken some lumps and some weather and bulked up into a man’s soul, so that he could look out of his own eyes and not feel like a kid in a mask.

Besides straight-up experience, these are the kinds of things that need doing if you want to get past the problem Wolff writes about above.

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5. Be good.

This doesn’t mean be wishy-washy, soft, overly nice, boring, or dry and earnest. It means find the outlines of a moral framework somewhere (mentors, your own thoughts, philosophers, religion, whatever), know it will change over time but don’t let that stop you, and work towards some kind of goodness. What this really means is being conscious when you do shitty things. If people detect that you have a sense of goodness you’re working from (if it seems innate, hey, you’re lucky) or striving towards (like most of us), they’re apt to trust you, open up to you, and all the rest. Including women you’re chasing after. Don’t abuse the priviledge.

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4. Stay Positive.

The most cliched on all the list, and thus the most simple. Girls like positive guys. Not stupid/positive or dopey/happy, but positive. Unless you are a misanthropic artist who uses emotionally-screwed techniques to win beautiful girls to your bed over and over again, you’re not going to pick up, get with, or stay with anyone by constantly being pissed off at life.

Sure, great art sometimes comes out of a fundamental pessimism (check Beckett for a reminder). But chances are you’re not a great artist, so don’t use that as an excuse for anything. If you were to follow every piece of advice on this list, meet dozens of women, love many of them, have years of rich experience, and THEN decide to lapse into negativity, fine. You’d have earned it and you’ll be an interesting guy regardless. But don’t start from there.

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3. Play to your strengths.

If, through some strange anomaly of nature. you find yourself naturally unable to try or accomplish any of these suggestions, here’s still one to remember. Take a while to figure out what you’re best at and work on that stuff. Hard. Don’t force your interest in stuff you just don’t give a shit about–there have always been more things in the world to learn about than your mind could ever fit in a lifetime, so you’ve gotta pick them well, which means you’ve gotta know yourself a little bit.

There’s a little exception here, which is that if your strengths fall into the nerdier regions and include playing World of Warcraft, posting on message boards, and generally using computers with some skill, you gotta branch out. Doesn’t mean any of those things are shitty on their own, but don’t let them turn into everything. Ogle beautiful girls online and then go find them in real life. The two can exist hand-in-hand just fine.

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2. Don’t complain.

Although this seems just like our previous “stay positive” admonition, it’s not. Sometimes, no matter how hard you’re trying to keep positive, you’ll find yourself whining or complaining about something. This is generally toxic, especially at the beginning of a flirtation or relationship. It’s also the easiest thing to do, sometimes. Which is why it’s brutal.

No, really: it’s far easier to complain about the bullshit your manager just dumped on your desk and how he’s an embarassment to the company and your perspective on how your government office works is pretty unique and even though you try and do a smart job no one gives a shit which just makes the days shitty and there’s never any time anymore and who the hell really wants to…. see? There’s almost nothing easier than complaining, and if you don’t watch it, you’ll do it even with people you’ve just met.

If you’re prone to this, and many are, this is something you’ve got to keep in your mind constantly in order to not fall into its trap. Naturally, endearingly positive people often seem like they’re born that way, but there are plenty who are continuously making the decision not to complain, the conscious choice, over and over, until it becomes natural. Try it, especially if you’re working on your game.

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1. Be active.

The only reason this is #1 is because it makes all the other things on this list so much damn easier. If you get half an hour of good exercise in every day, literally every single other thing we’re talking about here becomes magically, incredibly easier to pull off. Nevermind all the other benefits. Spending lots of energy paradoxically gives you even more. It literally makes your days longer.

Got any extra suggestions? Let us know through your comments!

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Five Things You Can Start Doing (Today) to Get the Girls

Posted on 11 January 2009 by jordan

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Sometimes you just need a little push. Your game is good, you’re plenty sharp as a guy, but you know there are just certain things you could be doing right now that would not only make your own life a little more shining and rich, but would draw females toward you in that effortless way you’ve always wanted. These aren’t really secrets–successful guys (successful people, for that matter) do these things on a consistent basis, but everyone starts somewhere. So here are 5 things (with another 5 tomorrow) you can start doing today (just pick one of them, don’t over-do it) that will instantly and permenantly up your cachet in a lasting, legitimate way.

And this works for guys who already have girls, too. Improving yourself and becoming more attractive (in the original sense of attractive, ie., that you attract others towards you) is something you should probably be doing your whole damn life, not just in that ferocious period where you’re trying to win a girl (or several). Being ‘effortlessly good’ takes work, but it’s good work, so read on for 5 things you can do, pick one of them, and start.

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10. Learn another language but keep it damn interesting with good movies.

Read Tim Ferris’s post on the subject and start small. Pick a language that’s useful to you (something like Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic), and figure out the language books that get recommended the most. Use amazon for that. Pick up one, and then use it as an excuse to watch a ton of movies in that language (obviously subtitled in English, but if you work hard for a few months you might start watching stuff in its original language–always subtitled.) Italian and French are the best candidates for this based solely on cinema alone. Best of all, this ties into #9:

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9. Pick a cultural area and get heavily accquainted with it.

Like Italian film. Don’t do this lightly and don’t fake it. Read a couple of books on the subject and watch what you can. You gotta branch out. Here are a few to try, if you’re feeling lost:

  • Any major part of art history
  • Any major literary movement (try reading 3 victorian novels and a light, fun non-fiction book on the period. It’ll do wonders for the next time you have to explain why your moral system isn’t crazy, which is perfect when you’re chasing 2, 3, 4 girls at once…)
  • Music below the surface (pick anything here: early or late reggae, delta blues, balkan brass bands… it’s limitless)

Whatever you choose will lead you to future things. When you’re interested in stuff, it shows. Keep positive, stay curious, and people will want to know more.

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8. Travel Alone

Try a couple of weeks entirely alone through a foreign country. I don’t need to explain anything else about why this is good for you becoming a more attractive, desireable guy, but if you want to make a good impression you really should have the capacity to pull this off. It speaks volumes about your capacity elsewhere.

good food by flickr user clspeace

7. Cook, for the love of God

Don’t be intimidated by other dudes who are experts in one cuisine or another, naysayers who call you elitist, or those who hold their enjoyment of food as a kind of snobbery above everyone else. We all gotta eat 3 times a day, so it’s one area you can improve yourself in without putting yourself out too much. Keep it positive and buy something like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Maybe throw in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food so you can explain why you’re spending so much more time cooking these days (not that it should really be necessary). Start simple and fresh. Don’t go nuts making 4-course heavy french meals for your friends when all you gotta do is work from simplicity.

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6. Work–yeah, actually work on–your own sense of curiosity.

This is hard. This is real hard. But it makes all the difference in how much input you get into your brain from other people, and it does a billion other things for you–it fills you with information, with stories, tales, anecdotes, and emptathy for others, understanding, and experience. When you develop (and you do have to develop it, only a select few are born with it naturally) this ability to be curious in other people, to put the initial unknowingness on hold at the beginning and treat every person you meet like they have a prize-winning novel-worthy story inside of them, you’ll be on a step towards making yourself a great person too.

And not to mention how flat-out attractive this makes you. Again, in the traditional sense of the word. People are attracted towards people like this, for obvious reasons. Read this article about Studs Terkel. Now I doubt any of us could match his insane enthusiasm for other people, but if you can capture just 5% of what he got from his fellow man you will be a lucky dude indeed, in every sense of the word.

Try 5 more tomorrow!

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