thomas locke hobbs | weblog
travel, latin america, photography, urban planning and stuff.
...and now my New York chronicles

March 31, 2001  
Mr. Lucky, about a New York performance artist who wins the lottery. A charming article from the New Yorker from a year ago by Rebecca Mead, author of the much linked, You've Got Blog.
posted by Thomas


I recently read Sunnyvale: the Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family by Jeff Goodell. The book is much more "decline and fall" and has little to do with Silicon Valley aside from taking place in Sunnyvale. Still, as I grew up in adjacent Los Altos, I found the geographic familiarity neat.

Much better than the book is an article Goodell wrote for the New York Times Magazine called The Venture Capitalist in my Bedroom where he goes back to his father's old house on Meadowlark Lane and investigates the lives of the young immigrants who now live there. Also, his Down and Out in Silicon Valley published in Rolling Stone is also a good read.
posted by Thomas

March 28, 2001  
Culture Shock

People kept asking if I feel any culture shock after two years away from the US. This isn't really a place for shock, things are too comfortable. Yes, people are fat, cars are big, goods are abundant and everything is spread out, but I've been expecting, even anticipating that for the longest time. It's more like the pleasant whiff of familiarity.
posted by Thomas

March 27, 2001  
Quality Products and Infomercials

Recently I saw both Tempur Pedic matresses and the Bose Acoustic Wave stereo advertised on an infomercial (I don't watch a lot of TV, so for all I know these have been around for years). These are both quality products. A friend has a tempur pedic matress, which they sell at Brookstones for $1500 a pop. I slept on it once and the experience was heavenly. My mother has the Bose Acoustic Wave stereo and the sound is astounding. Worth the $800. Absolutely.

I've always associated infomercials with tawdry, low-quality products of dubious use. With these two, this is obviously not the case. I suppose the marketing thinking behind this is the only way to get people to spend $1500 on a matress or $800 on a stereo is to expose them to it personally. Baring this, the next best way is to have a hard sell on an infomercial, with loads of testimonials and generous trial periods with full money back guarantees.
posted by Thomas

March 21, 2001  
Andrew Sullivan's Baby Steps

I've been reading Andrew Sullivan's weblog almost since it came out. It has been interesting to watch his growth in internet savvy from utterly to only somewhat clueless. He now links to other articles in his posts and made his "lite" site the default. Still, I find it much more convenient to go directly to Sullivan's text only frame and dispense with the superfluous navigation.

I am a bit annoyed at his chutzpah in begging for donations to "defray bandwith costs". Maybe getting rid of all that bloated flash would help. I mentioned this in an email to Dack who said:

I don't think it's chutzpah. In Sullivan's case, it's complete cluelessness.
As for Sullivan's writing on his blog, I find it sounding more and more shrill, like Camille Paglia's columns at Salon. It just goes to show that blogging is inimical to good writing.
posted by Thomas

Globalization Comes to Witchita. Feed Magazine. Original home of Pizza Hut is now full of Laotian, Thai, Salvadoran restaurants.
posted by Thomas

March 20, 2001  
Zara Price Tags & The Big Mac Index

The Economist has a little gimmick they call the big mac index. It compares the price of big macs around the world with their local country exchange rates. They use this measure relative strengths of currencies. A burger costs twice as much in Moscow as Sao Paulo? Start shorting rubles.

Spanish clothing retailer Zara also has locations around the world (including a couple in the US). The tags list prices for many different countries, Spanish pesetas, French francs, Brazilian reais, Argentine pesos all appear on the same small piece of cardboard. Anyone knowledgeable in current exchange rates can quickly see that the prices are not equivalent. That gold rayon and lycra shirt costs 50% more in Buenos Aires than it does in Belo Horizonte (altho you don't need Zara to tell you the Argentine peso is over-valued). What's neat is that a current snapshot of international currency fluctuations is right there on the tag.
posted by Thomas

March 19, 2001  
Now that I'm back in California, I'm enjoying telling people that I have no job, no car, and live with my mom.
posted by Thomas

Tear Gassed in Mexico City

The title is a generous overstatement, but nevertheless accurate. It happened in Tepito, a large electronics market a few blocks north of Mexico's Zocalo. It's a massive six square block maze of crowded stalls, twisting passageways, and hidden warehouses. Essentially it's Mexico's casbah. It's the place to go for duty-free, tax-free (and probably stolen) electronic goods as well as pirated CDs. It was the latter that brought me there. My upper middle class Mexican friends shuddered at the thought that I would set foot in this place, but for a mere $1.50 I could buy any of the latest hits and a good selection of back catalog stuff.

I went four times, filling out my CD collection with Guns and Roses, Christina Aguilera, Billy Joel. There is little I won't buy for $1.50. That's less than my time value spent downloading these songs off the net. My first visit was on a Tuesday, they only day they were closed. I was lucky, though, because the next day the federal police raided the market, confiscating goods and arresting dozens of people. The merchants fought back, throwing bottles and punches. Fifty people were injured in the melee and the next day the riots (the Tepitazo) made the front pages of all the tabloid newspapers.

My next visit was a week later. Things had quieted down and dozens of stalls blared out Britney, Mana or Thalia in an effort to attract shoppers to their nearly identical offerings. The only lasting consequence of the raids had been a raise in the price of CDs from $1.25 to $1.50. I bought CDs until I ran out of money (you never carry much cash in Mexico City). The following two visits were more of the same, with me increasingly scrutinizing each stall's selection looking for something I'd like.

At some point during this last visit two vendors pushed me aside to get a clear view of a helicopter--a police helicopter circling overhead. I immediately noticed many of the CD sellers hurriedly packing up their inventory into boxes and wheeling them away on dollies. Other vendors seemed indifferent and continued selling, so I continued shopping. When I came to one stall that was setting up I asked if they weren't worried by the police presence (still nothing more than swirling helicopters from what I could see). They said they won't touch us, they're after the drug distributors.

It was just after this, having bought from them Billy Joel's Greatest Hits vol. 1, 2 as well as the hits of Argentine group, Heroes del Silencio, that I felt a sudden stinging in my eyes and throat, as if someone were cutting up a great quantity of onions nearby. I looked around me and noticed that everyone hurrying by had their faces covered with their shirts. I turned around and headed back towards the subway through the maze of stalls, bumping into people along the way. The tear gas, never very concentrated to begin with, was already passing. I slowed down and even paused to look at a few more CD vendors on my way back.
posted by Thomas

March 15, 2001  
http://isbn.nu is a price comparison engine for books. You just type in the ISBN number and it lists the cheapest online bookseller. Books-a-million is usually the cheapest, always beating Amazon by 10% and sometimes by much more. I just bought about $120 of books from them. We'll see how they arrive. Interestingly, Amazon still out-sells Booksamillion thru this site despite their higher prices. The owner of the site sent in this interesting commentary on why Amazon outsells as feedback ot a jakob nielsen alert column.
posted by Thomas

Currently I'm reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, a New York chef who spills industry secrets. The chapter, "From our kitchen to your table" first appeared as an article in the New Yorker. It's a fantastic article full of eye-popping little details about shadowy practices of the culinary world. For instance, on why you should never order your steak well done:

So what happens when the chef finds a tough, slightly skanky end-cut of sirloin, that's been pushed repeatedly to the back of the pile? ... he can 'save for well-done'-serve it to some rube who prefers to eat his meat for fish incinerated into a flavorless, leathery hunk of carbon, who won't be able to tell if what he's eating is food or flotsam.
The rest of the book is in a more memoir style and less interesting, but still a good read.
posted by Thomas

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Send me email: hobbs@post.harvard.edu
Let me know what I've misspelled.

About me

My name's Thomas Locke Hobbs. I used to live in Argentina, now I am in New York City. I grew up in California. I'm a bit suspicious as the value of keeping a weblog, but I do it anyway. Go to my home page for more about me.

Weblogs I read:

Xblog, Virginia Postrel, Signal vs. Noise, Peterme, Obscure Store, Metafilter, Media News, Lonely Planet Daily Scoop, Lightningfield, Kottke, Joel on Software, Dan Bricklin, Camworld, Arts and Letters Daily,

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