Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Stitches West: So much yarn and fiber = so much fun


Skeins and skeins of colorful yarn / The scene outside the Yarnover Truck,
a mobile yarn boutique, on Saturday morning at Stitches West. 

Last Saturday, my wife Jodi and I attended the 2017 Stitches West yarn and fiber exhibition in Santa Clara, Calif., where we connected with many of our fiber friends. When you're the husband of a knitter, like I've been going on nearly 20 years, you set aside the last weekend in February for the fiber arts – and embrace the creative experience.

Ball So Hard /
Neighborhood Fiber Company's slogan.
I've been Jodi's regular companion – and I'm proud to be her yarn enabler, too – at this annual gathering for more years than I can remember. Together, we've seen it grow into one of the West Coast's premiere fiber arts events.

Although husbands and boyfriends makeup a very small percentage of the ever-growing yarn and fiber crowd at Stitches West, I attend willingly and feel uninhibited, totally at ease. If you've ever been tempted by the fiber arts, whether it be knitting, crocheting or spinning, the Stitches West marketplace is the place to go see. After all, there's so much yarn and fiber, which can only mean one thing: So much fun.

Upon entering the Marketplace Hall, which we did when the doors opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, knitters and their enablers are easily tempted by row upon row of booths filled with colorful and luscious yarn and gorgeous fiber that's not only attractive to look at, it's also lovely to touch, too. It's the place to plan the perfect sweater, find fiber friends, and gain new perspectives – even take an engaging class.

Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers /
Inspired by nature.
Our first stop of the day inside the Marketplace Hall was at Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers, whose booth is always an inspiration for lovely designs and colorful fibers. Miss Babs is Babs Ausherman, a hard-working, insightful fiber artist and online retailer of hand-dyed yarn and fiber and patterns based in Mountain City, Tenn. I've learned that she was raised in a family of creative types and entrepreneurs – and she believes that a good day's work is good for the soul.

I've had the pleasure to visit and talk with Miss Babs each of the past several years when she comes to California. I appreciate her sharp wit, artistic and creative flair, and her thoughtfulness. From her, I've learned that color ideas come from everywhere – especially when they're inspired by nature.

A Verb For Keeping Warm /
Beautifully decorated and inviting for knitters.
From there, it was on to see our dear friends Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez, whose naturally-dyed A Verb For Keeping Warm yarn and fiber have made their bricks-and-mortar shop a haven for knitters and fiber artists close to home in Oakland. Their booth each year is always beautifully decorated and inviting. As always, whenever we drop by the AVFKW booth, it's abuzz with newly designed and naturally dyed yarn and fiber, and plenty of knitters perusing the yarn and fiber as well as patterns and project bags.

We also paid a nice visit to Neighborhood Fiber Co., based in Baltimore, whose uniquely hand-dyed yarn is inspired by urban landscapes.

After a leisurely lunch with a couple of fiber friends, it was time to renew our friendship with Robin Senour, a glasswork artist from Berkeley, whose witty Sacred Laughter artwork and philosophy ("Bring more art into your life") we admire and adore. On Saturday, we bought out tenth piece of Sacred Laughter, a badger from Senour's "Wind and the Willows" fairy tale collection. Over the years, we've made many friends among the yarn and fiber vendors and artisans at Stitches West – and it's always nice to be recognized like an old friend by them.

After one last pass through the aisles, where we renewed our acquaintance with Kira Dulaney of Kira K Designs – she shared with me the great news that she had just completed creating her 100th pattern in 10 years – and we also met the good folks from The Knitting Tree, L.A., it was time to make full circle by returning to Miss Babs to purchase some skeins of lovely and colorful yarn and say goodbye until next year.

Looking back, as my appreciation of the fiber arts continues to grow, I will always enjoy making time to explore the creative process and to find out what inspires these remarkable fiber artists.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Because none of us is as smart as all of us


Podcasts are a genre of narrative audio that have taken off in recent years. There are plenty of podcasts devoted to politics, sports, fashion and music. Search long enough and you will find podcasts devoted to topics like knitting and English football, too. While some podcasts lack polish, others sound like NPR programs. One thing they definitely are is portable.

One of my new favorites is "Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly," a podcast that's about the economy, technology and culture. It's motto is: "Because none of us is as smart as all of us."

"Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly" is hosted by Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, and they use their collective expertise "to connect the dots on the topics they know best, and get help from listeners and experts about the ones they want to know better."

Prior to its launch last month, here's what Kai and Molly wrote on the podcast's website: "Here's what we think when we say 'smart.' Facts and figures? Sure, but not enough. Analysis and opinion? Absolutely, but still not quite there. Understanding, historical context, research and connecting individual stories as pieces of a larger whole? Now we're talking.

"We want to focus on analysis and understanding, not on headlines and talking points. And we each have our own expertise, but we know we're not always going to be the smartest people in the room.

"You have your own smarts. And together, we can all get just a little bit smarter."

"Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly" releases a new episode each week on Tuesday – it can be downloaded via iTunes or you can listen to it on the podcast's website – and the most recent one, "Reputation in the Age of the Protest Economy," made its debut on Feb. 21. It featured a conversation with Sallie Krawcheck, founder and CEO of Ellevest, an investment platform for women.

On the podcast's website, www.marketplace.org/topics/make-me-smart, to draw in listeners for a recent latest episode, "It's the Economy, Cupid," it teased: "Time to take a look at a big thing that's getting lost in the first four weeks of the Trump administration. Hint: It's the economy. Other highlights: a cameo by David Frum, senior writer for The Atlantic, answering the show's "Make Me Smart" question: "What's something that you thought you once knew, but turns out you were wrong about?" Later in the same episode, Kai and Molly talked with Eric Bickel and Michael Weis of the Quantify Louisville blog. What they do is to take publicly available data from the city of Louisville, Kentucky, then look for stories hidden in the data. How cool is that! Bickel and Weis spoke about specific ways in which to judge the value of any given statistic.

On earlier episodes, Kai and Molly talked with Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, author of the book The Attention Merchants, who coined the phrase network neutrality, "which is the principle that internet service providers should enable equal access to all content and applications, and not favor one source of content over another." Also, they spoke to Scott Phoenix, co-founder of Vicarious, a company that is trying to build a new kind of artificial intelligence, and to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass.

"Our ultimate goal at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country," Ryssdal said prior to the podcast's launch. "Right now it's especially important that we work together to identify and understand what's truly newsworthy. This is exactly what 'Make Me Smart' does."

Adds Woods: "'Make Me Smart' is really a passion project for both of us. It's taking what Kai and I already do at Marketplace and putting it into a new format that allows us to go beyond what we can do on air. This podcast will let us press pause on what's newsworthy and dive even deeper into the topics that people not only want, but need to hear about."

Photo: Courtesy of Marketplace and American Public Media.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Nike: Equality has no boundaries

LeBron James during the filming of Nike's "Equality" commercial. /
"We can be equals everywhere."

On Sunday evening during the nationally televised Grammy Awards program, Nike debuted a short film about #EQUALITY. It's message was clear: Equality has no boundaries.

This extraordinary 90-second spot, filmed in black in white, was directed by Melina Matsoukas who has two Grammy Awards for her work on Beyoncé's "Formation" and Rihanna's "We Found Love." It features NBA great LeBron James and co-stars American athletes Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Megan Rapinoe, Gabby Douglas, Victor Cruz, and Dalilah Muhammad.

"Equality" has already received more than 4 million views on YouTube.




The central theme of "Equality," which also features actor Michael B. Jordan in a cameo as well as narrating the script, and singer Alicia Keys covering Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," is this: "The Equality and fairness prevalent in major professional sports should transcend into broader society."

As part of Nike's Black History Month campaign, their initiative aims to "inspire people to take action in their communities."

The voice over in the film (Jordan) says "if we can be equals here," referring to a basketball court, then James says "we can be equals everywhere."

Writing in ESPN's "The Undefeated" sports, race and culture website, writer Clinton Yates said: "Using a street art metaphor to make a point about in-your-face activism is not only effective, but for many who'll likely see this ad, perhaps familiar."

It made an impact with me; I hope it makes an impact with you.

#EQUALITY
Is this the land history promised?
Here within these lines.
On this concrete court. 
This patch of turf.
Here, you're defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs.
Equality should have no boundaries.
The bonds we find here should run past these lines.
Opportunity should not discriminate.
The ball should bounce the same for everyone.
Worth should outshine color.
If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.

A postscript: Nike has released a behind-the-scenes look at "Equality," which is worth a good look. It showed what equality means to each of the athletes involved. Said Rapinoe: "Being a woman in sport, first of all, equality is not always something that we're privy to. And being a gay woman in this country, in sport, wherever I am in the conversation, it's there. It's my responsibility of making sure that I speak up about it, and speak up for other people. Hopefully, it can grow that movement in that way."

Adds James: "At the end of the day, we're always just trying to find a way that we can all feel equal, we can all be equal, have the same rights, have the same feelings, being able to be in the same place no matter the color."




• Nike, which plans to air the "Equality" film during next Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, is currently promoting "Equality" t-shirts on its website. According to Adweek, Nike will donate $5 million during this calendar year to "numerous organizations that advance equality in communities across the U.S., including Mentor and PeacePlayers."


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Super Bowl ads: Are you paying attention, Mr. President?


How did I spend my Super Bowl Sunday? Watching the big game, of course. As much as I was riveted by the exciting outcome – New England beat Atlanta, 34-28, after coming from behind to force the first overtime game in the 51-year history of the Super Bowl – I focused on the commercials, too.

This year, many ads contained politically charged messages and several TV spots highlighted hot-button themes such as immigration (Budweiser, 84 Lumber), equal pay (Audi) and inclusion (Coca-Cola). Are you paying attention, Mr. President?

Long after the game ends, collectively, we do seem to remember the commercials, especially the good ones. There were a couple of ads that resonated with me for a variety of reasons, for Coca-Cola and for Airbnb. Both aired early during Sunday evening's Super Bowl LI game broadcast.

In "It's Beautiful," Coca-Cola's message was simple: "Together is beautiful." The Atlanta-based soft drink titan scored a touchdown with its Super Bowl ad that aired just before kickoff, in which culturally diverse Americans sang a multilingual version of "America The Beautiful," in English, Hindi, Arabic and Tagalog.

The 60-second spot designed by Wieden + Kennedy debuted during the 2014 Super Bowl to mixed results and was revived during last year's Rio Olympic Games. However, given the current national conversation many Americans have been sharing about immigration and diversity, its message seemed more relevant. "It's Beautiful" featured plenty of beautiful, multicultural images depicting America as a nation of many races, many ethnicities and many religions. It promoted optimism, inclusion and humanity, themes which seem foreign to the dystopian American carnage being propagated by the Trump Administration. It was beautifully filmed and edited, and given today's political climate, "It's Beautiful" took on a certain poignance this time.


Another commercial worth applauding came from Airbnb, whose politically charged message in its "We Accept" ad spoke volumes about diversity and acceptance: "Acceptance starts with all of us." In its Super Bowl commercial, put together on short notice  – perhaps seen as a Silicon Valley response to President Trump's immigration ban – Airbnb reminded us of this simple but important message: "We believe no matter who you are, where you're from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept." Indeed, the world is more beautiful the more #weaccept. The hashtag went viral by halftime.

Afterwards, I learned Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced that the company is aiming to provide short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, disaster survivors, and other displaced persons over the next five years. Additionally, over the next four years, Airbnb will donate $4 million to the International Rescue Committee.

"We couldn't talk about the lack of acceptance in the world without pointing out the challenges in our own community at Airbnb," the company said in a statement following the airing of its ad. "The painful truth is that guests on Airbnb have experienced discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our values. We know we have work to do and are dedicated to achieving greater acceptance in our community."


Looking back on both ads – expressions of American values I support – reminded me of this: I have many multicultural friends – thanks, Facebook – who are close and dear to me. They represent many races and ethnic backgrounds, come from many different religious faiths, and speak multiple languages. I have friends who identify with the LGBTQ community. I have friends who are biracial. I have friends who are raising biracial children and friends who are parenting transgendered children. Thus, it's important to see advertisers, representing both legacy and start-up companies, reaching out to all Americans by conveying positive messages about inclusion, diversity and acceptance. After all, there's no larger TV audience than a Super Bowl audience for spreading a good message.

Regardless of what you think, Mr. President, these ads conveyed the true spirit of our America.

Cover photo: Courtesy of Google Images. Videos: Courtesy of YouTube.