Monday, December 31, 2007

Unconvential Marketing Wisdom

Slate has an interesting article up about how Starbucks can actually improve the business of local Mom & Pop coffee houses. If you think about the role of Starbucks in coffee-culture at all, you probably think that the opening of a Starbucks means the closing of a local, independently owned java-joint. And this does certainly happen, but...

But closures like this have been the exception, not the rule. In its predatory store placement strategy, Starbucks has been about as lethal a killer as a fluffy bunny rabbit. Business for independently owned coffee shops has been nothing less than exceptional as of late. Here's a statistic that might be surprising, given the omnipresence of the Starbucks empire: According to recent figures from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 57 percent of the nation's coffeehouses are still mom and pops. Just over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. (Starbucks, I might add, tripled in size over that same time period. Good times all around.) So much for the sharp decline in locally owned coffee shops. And prepare yourself for some bona fide solid investment advice: The failure rate for new coffeehouses is a mere 10 percent, according to the market research firm Mintel, which means the vast majority of cafes stay afloat no matter where Starbucks drops its stores. Compare that to the restaurant business, where failure is the norm.

I've seen some of this myself, in the Mid-West and deep South, where until the early to mid 90s (the time of Starbucks initial explosion) coffee shops of any kind besides the neighborhood diner were virtually nonexistent, now there are coffee shops, both local and corporate in every decent sized community. Heck, whereas once you could only get some tepid, rusty-colored dishwater at your local convenience store, now every gas station in the country has a variety of coffee flavors at your disposal. If anything, Starbucks has single handedly introduced the country to the concept that coffee can be more than the swill you are used to getting at Dennys, (actually since Starbucks ascension, even Dennys' perennially despised brew has improved significantly.) For reasons beyond those mentioned in the article, this has benefited those local businesses who make a great cup o' joe.

This is actually a discussion I've had with several people over the years, including one today. I've heard it expressed that McDonalds' omnipresence in the world is a sign of American cultural dominance. An American tourist, no matter where they are in the world, knows that they can go to a McDonalds and receive a burger which, while it may not be the best in the world, will be just what they expect. A kind of colonialistic, imperialistic comfort food. I think Starbucks represents the same sort of thing but for the caffinated elite from the Pacific NW, who came to the forefront of our economics at the same time as Starbucks. Even though you know that it won't be the best No Caff, Soy Latte you ever had, it WILL be a No Caff Soy Latte. And that's reassuring on some level.
But still, if faced with a choice, any good Pacific North Westerner knows that Starbucks is not Seattle's Best Coffee.
Which brings my thinking back to McDonalds. I've heard it said that McDonalds spends millions of dollars analyzing markets and traffic patterns before opening a new store. Wendy's, on the other hand, just tries to find a new location near where a new McDonalds is...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now, THAT is What I Call Bling!

Though, I'd hate to try to get it insured...

That's right folks, the new contender for Most-Blinged-Out-Car-of-All-Time is "Ninety-Nine Auspicious Dragons", a true heavyweight, weighing in at 2 tons. The car is encrusted with dragons carved out of mammoth ivory and yak bone, which is further embellished with gold and diamonds. And you pimps out there thought your spinning rims and dvd players were hot stuff...

"Artwork is invaluable. If my car is put up for auction, I except that it could fetch 20,100,000 yuan, for the Guangzhou Asian Games is to be launched in 2010. I also hope my car could stay in China and even in Guangzhou." Folk art master Su Zhongyang said. (quoted in Life of Guangzhou)
That's $2,728,000 rapidly shrinking Yankee dollars! I suppose all artwork is invaluable, but some artwork is more invaluable than others...
(click any of the links for more pictures, I just liked that dragon best.)

via Automotto

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lambretta Story

The Lambretta Story

Several months ago, I posted about the advertising montages of YouTube member Bubbledesign, which they set to some great old Northern Soul.
Well they have this kooky little number up now, which shows the evolution of Lambrettas through vintage TV adverts... set of course to Northern Soul.
Thanks to Valoise for the heads up on Bubbledesign's Lambretta ephemera video.

Crossing the US on a Ruckus

Y'all surely know by now that the Dragon is a sucker for any tale of cross-country wandering. When such feats are accomplished on two wheels, it's even cooler, and the smaller the bike... well the more props are due. Well, the intrepid Wan from Seoul, South Korea saved money he'd earned from working in a restaurant for a year to live his dream of touring the US on a 49cc Honda Ruckus.
That, my friends, is what the old skooler's call intestinal fortitude.
Wan networked with folks over at the Total Ruckus forum before his trip, and the saga of his journey is lovingly documented there with many photos... Man, I can see many hours of daydream fodder ahead of me as I digest that thread.

So far from what I've read Wan, or drinkbeer9 as he is known on Total Ruckus, has been really fortunate in meeting friendly and enthusiastic 'Mericans. I sure hope that continues to be true for him.

I also found this post by Wan really interesting. It is a short photo-essay on how he packs his Ruck. Like so much else about this story, it should be inspirational to any scooterist, no matter what lineage their steed descends from.

OK, there are like 31 pages to this thread, and while the Dragon is not normally the kind of beast to flip to the last page of a book, I had to see where Wan is now. Seems he's spending some time enjoying Austin, TX (and who can blame him?) So, it lucks like I'll be posting some updates on this story as it progresses.

GO WAN! You Rock!

via Neatorama

The Dragon's Portfolio and Guerrilla Marketing

I began this blog almost two years ago with intent of it being a platform for promoting my creative endeavors, as well as a tool for archiving the assorted internet weirdness that inspires me. In that time, well it's turned into something slightly different.
Ironically, I guess one of the reasons for that divergent development is that I have a hard time tooting my own horn, despite that being the original purpose of this blog. It's not that I have low artistic self-esteem or anything. Far from it, I probably think more highly of my talents and potential than my output warrants. But self-promotion just seems kind of rude... like a dinner guest who only talks about themself... (Just counting the first-person singular pronouns in this paragraph makes me cringe...)

Anyhow, as I make baby steps to developing some self promotional materials, I've started referring potential contacts to this blog, and have realized that there is no easy way for readers to find my personal works. Clicking on Painting just gives you every post on painting, frequently featuring works by other artists which tickled or inspired me. Same goes for Art or Photography.

So to make it more convenient for those who might be interested in browsing images created by yours truly, I've gone through and labeled posts with my personal works as Portfolio.

If you are interested, you can always check a different version of my art portfolio here, without all my usual insipid ramblings.
The same goes for the photographic portfolio here.
Yes, I'm working the free online image storage services for all they are worth. My artistic endeavors are being operated on a hobbit's shoe-string budget (that is to say nonexistent), so if you'd like to see these images in a more professional dedicated environment, you could always buy one of my t-shirt designs or one of my fine-art prints...
On the other hand, if all the above has bored you to tears you could just use the Scooters label for the dedicated Scootin' posts, or the Steampunk label for some RetroFuturist love...

Any artists out there have any other suggestions for guerrilla marketing tools and techniques, or ways to overcome a Mid-Western feeling of self-promotion being cheesy, greasy, and sleazy? I'd love to hear some conversation on this in the comments.

Art of Noise

That's right kiddos, the Dragon's here with another flashback video post, eating through your bandwidth like a chainsaw through a baby grand.
Enjoy the techno-anarchistic glee!

and what 80s flashback would be complete without a visit from Max Headroom?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Steamy Holidays

The Make! blog has enlisted Steampunk maker extraordinaire Jake Von Slatt to create a gift guide for that Steampunk on your list. As you might expect from a tinkerer of Herr Von Slatt's ingenuinity and refined taste, there are some real beauties on this list:

Tool box - Journeyman Tool Chest Price: $987.00 Buy: Gerstner - Link.

There is something about beautifully crafted hand tools that enhances your work. It's not just that they are of high quality, there's something about an heirloom tool that inspires you and allows you to exceed your normal skill level when you work with it.

Such tools need, nay, demand! a worthy case. Gerstner & Sons of Dayton Ohio have been making such cases since 1906. To put it simply; OMG, WANT!

Jes's folks got her a vintage example of just this type of toolchest for her birthday this year, and it is freaking amazing! Of course, hers needs some refinishing love, but that in itself is a project I'm sure she will enjoy. So if the new price gives you sticker shock, you should keep in mind that your favorite nefarious anachronistic mastermind just might enjoy restoring and customizing a slightly broken in specimen of the above, just as much as the chest itself...

But if you have the budget, here is another ready made steamy gift suggestion, I recently came across on Retrothing:

There are countless iPod docks on the market, but few are as carefully crafted as the Thodio iBox lineup from Amsterdam... Each case is handcrafted from 15 mm beech, oak, teak, zebrano or mahogany. They contain a 2 x 25 Watt solid state amplifier and a pair of Focal Polyglass 100CV1 full range speakers.

One thing that bothers me about many docking systems is that they tether you to the wall with an awkward AC adapter. Thankfully, the iBox does away with wires by incorporating a built-in rechargeable 15 hour battery pack that enables you to take the unit beyond the four walls of your home. You'll be the life of the party during power outages, too. There's even a 149 euro Bluetooth option for completely wireless operation.

Prices start at 359 euros for a painted MDF version and range up to 549 euros for a deluxe finish with 7 layers of scratch-proof gloss finish and UV protection.

And if you feel that the iBox's steamy retro yumminess is somewhat marred by sticking a very modern iPod into the docking slot, well get your favorite retrofuturist a steampunk iPod skin:

These beauties are available for all generations of iPod, and at $15 will certainly not break the bank. In fact just one of these by itself, could be the perfect steampunk stocking stuffer. The artist, Colin Thompson, also has some brassy, rusty, patina-encrusted laptop skins available for a variety of portable computing platforms:
This laptop skin is basically adhesive vinyl and might be used for customizing items other than laptops... for instance I'm thinking one of these might look good on my Steampunk Vespa's glovebox...

Now if your favorite retrofuturist is more of a NeoVictorian than an exposed gears and boilers type, you know emphasis on the STEAM instead of the PUNK, you might consider a Kowal Portable kit, which will transform their mundane laptop into something like this:
The kits run a little more than Colin Thompson designs, but are far more customizable, with the option to choose from a variety of woods and such.

Another great, inexpensive steampunk present was posted recently by Tinkergirl on Brass Goggles, a brassy, antique-looking webcam:
This unique cam might present a little more challenge to acquire, as the site it is available on seems to sell wholesale to importers. Still, they do offer pricing for sample quantities of 1 to 15 for less than $12...

Now all these commercially available products will be claimed by some to be watered-down Steampunk, a few steps away from the DIY tinkerer's ideal. If you have the ability, a handmade gift should always be appreciated, or you might try finding something with some steam potential and customizing it a bit before gifting it. Inexpensive welder's or army surplus goggles and some applied imagination could just provoke waves of delight. (Plus one simply never has enough goggles!)

Or if you can't swing that, you could take Jake Von Slatt's suggestion and search for "steampunk" on All sorts of suitably steamy one-of-a-kind handmade items will instantly appear before you. Plus you will be supporting individual artists and craftspeople, rather than corporations, and that will display some steampunk savvy, indeed!

Finally, if money is no object and you are shopping for the Steampunk who has it all, there is the gift to end all gifts, a hand crafted keyboard by Datamancer:
Datamancer has produced several gorgeous variations on an original design by Jake Von Slatt. These are labor-intensive works of art by a master craftsman, and are priced accordingly ranging from $800 -$1000+. I doubt that Datamancer would be able to get you one by the 25th, as they are made to order with at least a two-month wait. Still, no steampunk worth their brass gears would be disappointed with the simple assurance that one was on the way...

The Sea is Our Shake-Up Flashlight

OSU is working on a new system for harnessing Poseidon's limitless energy. Their website is short on details, but the basic concept is ... well pretty basic, and you'll the get the gist from the above graphic. Pretty heady stuff.

The New York Times has an article about the technology and concerns it raises with fishermen and environmentalists. I have heard previous concepts for wave energy which center around submerged turbines which would be powered by ocean currents. That technology I could see unacceptably effecting sea-life. In fact in discussing the wave-turbines with Jes, she proposed a solution almost exactly like the illustration above.

via Slashdot

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Golden Compass Goodies

In our house, we are pretty excited about the upcoming Golden Compass movie. Jes has read all the books, and while I haven't, I've heard good things from her, and from the Steampunk community at large.

One of the premises of the series is that everyone has a familiar, or sort of external animal soul-friend. The movie's website has an area where you can determine what shape your personal Daemon will take, thusly:

Daemon? Well, I guess it's no wonder the Christian Right is already up in arms about the movie. If these folks had any imagination or knowledge of classical languages they might not be so quick to leap to judgement. Of course we are talking about the same intellectual giants who threw "Judge not, lest ye be judged likewise," out the window, and protested Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. Both of which are basically imaginative indoctrinations into the better aspects of Christian faith... but whatever...

While the Dragon doesn't wish to offend anyone's religious beliefs, he is of the conviction that imagination, like sexuality, is one of the Divine's greatest gifts to us, and one of the best means of reaching an understanding of the Divine... but you know, what ever kicks your starter, I suppose...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More Anachcronistic Scooter Anomalies

Well real-life responsibilities and some difficulties with my flux capacitor prevented my week of exploring the obscure glories of prehistoric scootering with as much depth as I would have liked.
Still, I feel I must share a few of the more interesting examples I've found, in an attempt to put to rest the myth that Vespa invented scooters. Don't get me wrong, I love Vespas, but I cringe a little every time I read one of those news stories about how high gas prices are driving increased scooter sales, and the Vespa invented scooters after WWII is tosssed out there.
Take for instance this lovely Dieselpunky military grade Cushman. 4734 of these Auto Glide Model 53 Cushmans were sold to the US Government, and some were used by Airborne troops after D-Day. Cushmans are probably the most common of the Pre-Vespa scooters, especially in the U.S., and there is a cult following of collectors and restorers to this day.

The above two Cushmans are on display at the Motorcycle History Museum in Sturgis South Dakota. Jes and I stopped there on a lark during our recent cross-county trip, and were very impressed by the place. While we expected merely a shrine to Harleys, they had a lot of cool pieces of two-wheeler history from manufacturers all over the world.

A really scoot which was on display there was the 1922 Ner-a-car.

Now that is one sick old scoot! And as a Scot, I love that the placard brings up one of my favorite arguments for scooters. Real men ride scooters, " 'Cause ya cannae wear a kilt on a motorcycle!"
Like the great-grand-daddy of the Ruckus, it's a cool naked scoot. But of course, customization of two-wheelers didn't start with chopped Harleys...

Built on a Neracar chassis, Mr Lawson built this in 1948 using a 288cc straight 4 from Mr Haythorn. It had outriggers that dropped under gravity and locked in position. They can just be seen hiding in the rear bodywork.


Mr. Lawson's custom ride reminds me stylistically of one my favorite old scooters, also from the twenties, the Unibus.

I haven't been able to scare up much info on these cute little machines, which have such classic and timeless styling. While there are plenty of cool step-through bikes prior to World War II, which definitely should be classified as scooters, the Unibus gets my vote as the real precursor to Vespas as a stylish machine for personal transportation. They also show how early savy advertisement entered into scooter culture. Indeed these antique adverts are about all the info I could scare up on them.

Well, before I sign off, I want to include a couple more cool Steampunk/Dieselpunk scooters I've come across, though again I forget where I found these...

Above is a Lutz Hummel.
And this is a Monet Goyon Velauto. Check out the wicker vent in front of the engine, and the wicker seat, definitely an idea to emulate if you are considering a Steampunk customization on your scoot.

Well, hopefully I'll be able to scare up some time to post some more of these cool old scoots in the next few days.