Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last year in the US the Toy industry generated $21.8 billion in sales. They included childhood favorites like Legos, Play-doh, board games like monopoly, and one of my personal favorites Nerf dart blasters. The toys we buy for our kids, the ones we hold onto in our basements and attics, and even toys that are yet to come to market say a lot about who we are.

Missing from this year's sales will be nearly 650,000 toys seized by the Consumer Product Safety Commision at US ports this past month. It seems even our beloved childhood toys are not free from the domination of foreign imports and the ever revolving list of threats to our health such as lead poisoning. Although even with a speculated 90 percent of toys being made over seas there are still great companies making toys here in the US. Little Tikes and Knexs are both produced here in the US. Some US toy companies like Channel Craft outside Pittsburgh, PA may cost more but the quality greatly exceeds any import.

The National Museum of Play in New York does not have a collection featuring defective or dangerous toys of the past, but they should. A collection of re-called or toxic toys would highlight just how important quality is over quantity. Some of my favorite toys growing up where the smallest like yo yos and lego blocks. Things that could fit in your pocket, whether it be something as sophisticated as a gameboy or as simple as a super bounce ball quickly became prized possessions.

I never felt any great attachment to the numerous numbers of cheap plastic dollar store toys short of perhaps toy soldiers. But even then I preferred the tin kind my grandfather had on his shelf. Parents should realize that more is not better, that fewer toys of a higher quality are what create lasting memories. There are a number of great blogs to help you find the right toys. Try, a site with lots of great ideas. Or if your really want to make some memories get creative and make some of your own toys at home. Check out  or or search around for your-self, the internet is full of sites about making your own toys with your kids.

Toys can quickly become a lot more than the sum of their parts. Jose Gomez -Marquez’s Little Devices Lab at MIT explores the toy world to find DIY medical devices to use in places like Africa. Bicycle pumps power nebulizers and lego sets become spectrophotometry kits saving lives and helping doctors to track diseases in places where hospitals may be out of reach and traditional labs simply don’t exist. Toys are the inspiration for young minds to, whole worlds are opened up through the types of toys we interact with. So who do you want the kids in your life to be like? What kinds of toys will you pass down?


USA Toy Companies:

My Favorites:

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Lost

Etan Patz, 6 years old, was last seen leaving his SoHo home in 1979. 30 years later SoHo is now populated with high in boutiques and restaurants. The artists lofts are all but disappearing and all but a handful of art galleries have moved to Chelsea. And still the memory of Etan lives on to such an extent that on Thursday NYPD and FBI investigators descended on 127B Prince Street to search the basement of the apartment building once home to prime suspect Jose A. Ramos. 

Utilities were shut down, the corner was cordoned off, and officers broke out jack hammers drills, and shovels in order to search for the body of young Eaton. The Soho of 1979 may be gone but so strong is the desire for answers as to the disappearance of young Eaton that even 30 years later police, family, friends, and even long time residents are still carrying on the search. This speaks volumes to the fact that our lives are defined as much by the people in our lives as those missing from it. 

Any of the thousands of widows, mothers, fathers, and siblings of service men and women who have gone missing in action can testify to the emotional effects of suddenly having a love one disappear from their lives. "When someone is killed, there's finality, with those who are missing, there's uncertainty. It's harder to know when to give up hope and when to begin grieving." Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia sister to Vietnam MIA Lt. Commander James B. Mills of the U.S. Navy Reserves. It is the same for those who have lost loved ones outside of the carnage of war too. 

It could be argued that it is the same for those who have never known important members of their family. A mother or father lost in war or to disease or simply absent leaves the same void for many children. A void that has no finality, no possible hope of closure. Our mortality to is in itself an absence, an uncertainty of what could have been or may never have been. The same day that officers descended on SoHo to continue the search for young Ethan the remains of Army Pfc. Richard E. Clapp, 19, of Seattle, Washington where discovered and began their journey home to friends and family who were still waiting for his return. Many more still wait for the lost to return in one way or another and many more wait for those that never were and never will be. 

In Russia a sudden series of teen suicides have been spreading throughout the former Soviet Union. In February two 14 year old girls, holding hands, leaped from a sixteen story rooftop. They were followed by countless others who chose to follow them in death through hangings or similar leaps. These children choose to join the ranks of the lost. One can only speculate as to the reasons for their desire to commit suicide but I would be willing to say that it had something to do with the individuals missing from their own lives. Russian authorities, on the other hand, cited the absence of mental health services and social support groups in a nation still suffering under the collapse of the soviet union. 

A countless number of people move through their day to day lives searching for someone who is missing. In the meantime they are surrounded by countless others just like themselves. Too few know they are not alone in this condition. Those two little girls in Russia may not have even known what individual was missing from the others life. They may never have even had the courage to ask. So, who is missing from your life? 


Friday, April 13, 2012


If you read my post yesterday you may have noticed an interesting fact I left out. Instagram is of course a company without profits or revenue but what it does have is users. About 10 million users. 10 million or so individuals who love sending photos to their friends. But wait couldn’t they already do that with their smart phone? Instagram does allow users to add crazy photo effects to pictures, although, this too could be easily accomplished before Instagram came along. So what is it that makes this app so appealing. It is simple to use and free; both points in its favor. But the app itself is not why Instagram is so successful. It is the photos.

A pictures says a thousand words...’ the most Cliche of phrases. True none the less. Recently Alison Nordström and Elizabeth McCausland released a new volume of Lewis Hine’s photographs. Hines’ was made famous by his photographs of Iron workers constructing the Empire State building and immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York. Instagram allows the average smartphone user to reproduce the brown hues or granny black and white that made Hine’s photos timeless. But it will take allot more to match the impact of his work as the photographer for  the National Child Labor Committee. It will take content. Content that simply is not mainstream nowadays.

Hine’s photographs turned the hearts and minds of millions of americans. Images of young boys working in coal mines and young girls crawling under gigantic cotton lumes proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that child labor was a problem in america. Everyone in america saw Hine’s photos. How many of us have seen a photo of a modern day coal worker? Type coal miner into google images. You’ll find hundreds of photos from Hine’s time period and a few from our own. Download any  photo of a modern coal miner to your phone and add the inkwell effect with Instagram and you have another timeless image like Hine’s.

The thing is you won’t. Images like those belonging to Hine’s still exist. Yes, of course we no longer have small children in the mines, but grown men are still descending into the dark unknown. Many more across the world in china are doing the same thing. Still more in between here and china take to the streets in places like Syria to struggle against repression and tyranny. Few if any photos arrive though from syria and of those that do slip out from china are few and seldom seen by the average american.

So what kind of power is there in a  image that's never seen? Instagram takes photos from your phone and in moments broadcasts them to every other human on the planet. In three seconds a photo is snapped, cropped, ‘photoshopped,’ and uploaded to facebook, blogger, and email. Whether those other people choose to view them is another story. And that is the point we come to. Instagram is not a force to be reckoned with because of its ease of use or even the content which people upload with it. Its impact comes from the other people. It comes from people viewing and interacting with those images. It derives its true effect when you choose to view photos of cats wearing funny hats instead of images of rural africa. Instagram is as much about the photos we don’t view rather than what we really use it for.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One billion dollars.

One billion dollars.

If you are anything like me, or the other folks I work with, you most likely just read the title of this post with a Dr. Evil accent. I would like to think thats how it ran through the mind of Mark Zuckerberg recently when he decided to purchase the company instagram for exactly the same amount. $1,000,000,000 for a company with no profits, no revenue, and less than two dozen employees. A billion is a hard number to wrap one's mind around. It typically only comes up in conversation when discussing corporate profits or debating the finer points of government deficits. So what is a billion dollars?

The world population as of 2010 was beginning to close in on 7 billion humans. Only about 300 million of them live here in the US. But approx 1 billion occupy a continent just across the atlantic; Africa. Here in the US about 78 percent of people have internet access allowing them to join us in musing about the concept of a billion dollars. In Africa it is closer to 10 percent. About half of them live on less than one  dollar a day and about a third will go to bed hungry tonight. In the US the per capita income is $40,000. World wide approx 1 in 7 people go hungry every day, which conveniently enough, turns out to be approx One Billion.

A lot of numbers to toss around in your head, but still just numbers. You may feel outrage at the idea of a company with almost no tangible value selling for 1 billion dollars while a billion people across the globe go hungry. This outrage has no tangible basis, outrage at a number Many of us work for corporations with similarly outlandish monetary values. None of us actually ever see millions in cash being carried in or out of our offices, stores, or job sites. Almost no one reading this blog post has ever seen, met, or spoken to anyone living in Africa let alone encountered hunger on a personal level.

1 Billion. Enough money to double the per capita income of most of africa. A small connection. Maybe just enough to bridge the gap between us and them. What would it mean to you if your income doubled tomorrow? How much more would it mean if your children had been starving the day before? One Billion is a meaningless number to a woman in africa, but one dollar, one dollar would be worth killing for.

Numbers are a queer business. We probably see Billions of them in our lifetimes. Finances, math classes, election results, sports scores, weather reports; numbers poor into our lives at a steady and endless rate. With the advent of smartphones we all travel about with tiny computers in our pockets pouring digits into our hands and sometimes overwhelming us mentally and emotionally. Although, typically we manage, we are used to most of the quantities we encounter in our day to day lives. Repetition and the human races unique ability to catalog and sort through the endless amount of data in our lives have made us almost immune to most large numbers. Now with a 7 billion plus people roaming the earth, maybe we’ll soon learn to cope with the idea of a Billion. Maybe we’ll even learn how to use it.

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