All posts by Tom Teicholz

Sternburg’s Photographs: “There for the Seeing”

Photographers don’t have eyes in the back of their heads. Janet Sternburg does.” -Wim Wenders on Janet Sternburg’s photographs.

‘Overspilling World’ (Distanz $55) collects the photographs of Janet Sternburg, poet, playwright, documentary filmmaker and producer, and memoirist. What is striking about Sternburg’s work, is not that she does all these different disciplines so well, but rather that she brings the same intellectual curiosity and deeply-felt artistic sensibility to each. For more https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomteicholz/2017/03/02/sternburgs-photographs-there-for-the-seeing/#1856f31c119a

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A Depression of One’s Own: Daphne Merkin’s ‘This Close to Happy”

In “This Close to Happy” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Daphne Merkin, novelist (‘Enchantment’) and essayist (‘Dreaming of Hitler’ and ‘The Fame Lunches’) has written a compelling chronicle of her traumatized childhood and an adult life marked by repeated bouts of severe depression.

Although it would be easy to characterize Merkin’s memoir as part of an established genre of books about surviving depression that includes William Styron’s ‘Darkness Visible’, Andrew Solomon’s ‘The Noonday Demon’, Susanna Kaysen’s ‘Sleep Interrupted’ and Kay Redfield’s ‘An Unquiet Mind’, Merkin’s work is unique in describing the mundane burden of a deeply felt and closely observed life lived with depression. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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The Genius of Bernard-Henri Levy’s Affirmative Judaism

In his latest book, “”The Genius of Judaism” (Random House), Bernard-Henri Levy revisits much of his early and recent public intellectual life to reveal that much of what he has done, where he has traveled to, and why he does it, is animated by his Jewishness. As a proud French Jew, Levy makes the case for a pointedly secular “affirmative Judaism” that is about actions not faith, ethics not belief. Levy calls it ‘messianic Judaism’ (which if I understand it, means not waiting for the messiah but actively doing those good deeds that will bring about the messiah).

In “The Genius of Judaism,” Levy elaborates on his credo by rebutting the pernicious and false logic behind current anti-Semitism and defends Israel as the world’s most successful multi-ethnic democracy created from scratch. Levy also makes the case for France’s Jews being integral to the establishment of the French Nation, the French Language and French Literature. And last, but certainly not least, he presents a striking interpretation of the Book of Jonah. It is a tour de force.

In a two-hour far-ranging conversation over lunch recently in Beverly Hills, I began by turning to the end of the book, whose last line is “The trip has only just begun,” – not only because Hebrew is read from right to left – but also because it begged the question of when Levy began the journey of reclaiming his Jewishness.

“It began 40 years ago when I wrote ‘Testament of God’ in 1979,” Levy said, “and I never stopped. I continued in parallel with all my other works.” However, Levy admits, his public persona was consumed with politics and polemics; while, in private, he pursued a less-seen education, “A second thread,” influenced by friends and mentors such as Emanuel Levinas and Benny Levy who inspired him to familiarize himself with well-known Jewish sources such as Maimonides and more esoteric ones such as the Malbim (a 19th Century Russian Rabbi, Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, known for his Torah commentary) and the Kabbalah. More recently, Levy explained, he has taken a teacher with whom, “on a more or less regular basis, I have tried to learn.”

When I asked if there was an event or moment that triggered his more recent deeper immersion in Jewish learning, Levy answered without hesitation: “The Libyan War in 2011.” Then he told me an amazing story: In Libya, as has been well-reported, Levy became more than an observer. He embedded with resistance forces and helped them plot strategy. Levy provided them material aid, most publicly by delivering direct messages to and from French Prime Minister Nikolas Sarkozy. One night, towards the end of the war, Johnny, one of his Libyan companions, asked if Levy if he wanted to meet “the radicals.” Johnny explained that Levy had met everyone else, the liberals, the fundamentalists, and the revolutionaries. Was he interested in meeting the most extreme Jihadists, those who pledge allegiance to Isis (Daesh)? Levy said “Yes.”

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“It was August 2011. I was driven to a remote farm out of Benghazi at night. It was during the end of Ramadan.” He was taken before three well-known jihadists. “I spent the night with them discussing face-to-face, a very strong discussion on very intellectual and political and intimate topics.” Afterward, he was taken out of the armed camp and returned to safety. “It was strange. I wondered, “Why do I do that?” What impelled him to be in Libya and meet with these men who were avowed Anti-Semites?

Levy turned to one of the books he had with him, a volume that contained the Book of Jonah. “This was a spark.” He began to read the story again. “I said, ‘There is something [in Jonah for which] I have to go deep. Benghazi is not Nineveh but it is a place where men are like beasts in great number, not recognizing the left and the right.” He came to the realization that “What I’m doing there… has something to do with rescuing Nineveh … And this was the launch [for his deeper inquiry into his Judaism].”

I suggested that there was perhaps another significant trigger that forced Levy to confront his Jewishness: The 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl. Levy had spent almost two years retracing Daniel Pearl’s steps for his book “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” (2003) who, significantly, was killed by his captors after being forced to say on camera that he was Jewish, the child of Jewish Parents and that a street was named for his grandfather in Bnei Brak (an ultra-orthodox community in Israel).

Shortly after the book’s publication, I interviewed Levy who told me then that in history there are “hinge moments” — inflection points — where things change radically. Levy said that the murder of Daniel Pearl was one such moment and that it would be as significant a marker of the return of worldwide Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century as was the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus in the 20th. Levy proved right about that (I think about it often). To write a book about Daniel Pearl and for Levy to come to face to face with the reductionism by which journalist, musician, humanist, husband, father, and son Daniel Pearl was made to affirm his Jewishness along with his final words could not but have had a powerful impact on Levy, forcing him to face his own Jewishness, his Judaism and how it informed his life. Levy did not disagree:

“For sure, it was a shock for me,” Levy said. “This encounter with this liberal dead Jew who came from a real Orthodox Jewish background, a liberal who was very ready to extend his hand to the Muslim world. He was very much [a] Jonah.”

Levy finds great lessons in Jonah’s struggle. Levy makes the point that Jonah is a reluctant prophet: “even at the end of the story, he does not realize what he’s accomplished… He does not understand.. his role in the economy of the creation.”

That night in Libya, Levy saw himself as a Jonah. “By the bad side, yes, at least. I did a lot of things in Libya [that] I did not understand at the time why I did it.”

Jonah, Levy argues, is one of the few prophets commanded to save non-Jews and to save their great city of Nineveh, despite the fact that in Nineveh there are “more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals.” To Levy, what God is signaling to Jonah is the importance of the City.

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“What the text says and What I believe with all the fibers of my being,” Levy said, “is that… this way of inhabiting Earth, which is the way of the City, gives to humans a certain form of freedom: Freedom vis-à-vis Man, vis-à-vis God, vis-à-vis matters of substance, [even] vis-a-vis Idols, that is worth saving. That is the message given to Jonah by God. A city may be bad, but this way of creating community with the world that is what we call a City is a school for liberty that we cannot let be extinguished.”

In Libya, Levy realized that even if the outcome was unsure, even if those who followed were anti-Semites, he was compelled as a Jew to try to save those great cities from fascism and Urbicide (a term Levy uses for the destruction of cities). “Fascism… always has at its core the wish of urbicide,” Levy said, much as we’ve seen recently in Aleppo and Palmyra.

And so, in the Book of Jonah, Levy found the “Genius of Judaism” and this caused him to reconsider his own personal journey.

While admitting regret for his youthful embrace of Maoism in the late 1960s (and being blind, at first, to the atrocities of those regimes), Levy, looking back, now wonders: What did this moment have do with Israel? Why was it that so many of his fellow philosopher activists such as Emanuel Levitas and Liberation founder Benny Levy (then known as Pierre Victor) were Jewish? And why did they each turn to Judaism late in life to explain their world view; along with Jean-Paul Sartre the famous existentialist, and author of “Anti-Semite and Jew” who, shortly before his death renounced his early philosophical stances in favor of ethics informed by messianic Judaism. Levy now says this was the start of his journey back to Judaism.

Over the next 40 years, Levy’s work as a journalist and human rights advocate led him to many of the world’s troubled places and forgotten war zones to report on the atrocities and upheavals in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Angola, Sri Lanka, and Colombia. Which is how he found himself in Ukraine, mounting a production of his play ‘Hotel Europe’ in Lviv, addressing an audience of young Ukrainians who knew nothing of the history of anti-Semitism that ran rampant in Lviv during World War Two (and where in 1941, I might add on a personal note, my paternal grandparents, and four uncles and aunts were murdered). And why, in 2011, Levy found himself in Libya during the overthrow of Gaddafi, brokering the recognition of Israel by the opposition rebel groups (who would themselves fall in the face of more radical elements). And why he met with the Islamic radicals outside Benghazi.

It is why in this book, he gives an answer to contemporary anti-Semitism. As Levy sees it, there are three justifications propping up contemporary anti-Semitism (all three of which he finds present in the US): 1. Zionism is the problem (it’s not the Jews, it’s Israel). 2. Holocaust Denial (It’s not the Jews or Israel but the way they lie about the Holocaust in order to justify Israel and their own existence). 3. The competition between victims (It’s not that we don’t believe the Holocaust, it’s just that it should not be treated as or more important than other national tragedies). Levy effectively answers each arguing for the uniqueness of what occurred in Auschwitz and during the Holocaust, as well as mounting a strong defense of Israel.

Levy cites Israel as the rare example of a democracy built from the ground-up that successfully integrates a multi-ethnic society without abandoning its legal ethics and civil morality even during times of crisis. He also writes what I found to be a wonderful paen to Israel: “In a world so profoundly splenetic and disenchanted, that beings have managed to survive, that they have had to retain a vitality and a passion, both fanciful and practical, those achievements give Israel a dimension that escapes many contemporaries and makes its national epic an adventure in which, putting politics aside, part of humanity’s destiny is playing out.” And Levy adds, “There is no place, today, where the Arabs are as free as in Israel”.

Finally, in the face of a French Jewish exodus, Levy wants to reclaim France as Jewish. In counterpoint to the narrative put forward in every French Lycee of Catholic France and its Church-led history, politics, and literature, Levy proposes the Jewish counter-narrative: France owes its monarchy to the Jewish nobles of Septimania; its language to the French Rabbi and Torah Scholar Rashi; and the revitalization of French literature to Marcel Proust. (To which I added my own fourth: its sense of community, society and artistic cross-pollination to its Jewish salonists such as Genevieve Straus and Gertrude Stein). The French word for Levy’s argument is chutzpah. That being said, he is not wrong in the facts he presents or the overarching point of his argument.

What Levy wants France and French Jews to understand is that Jews were never guests or refugees in France. “They were really among the main builders of France.” And so, “The spirit of France owes them a lot.” Further, French Jews did not assimilate into French Culture – they were the ones who made French culture. “My conclusion was, clearly,” Levy said, “that if someone had to leave [France], it was not the Jews but the anti-Semites.” Point, set, match.

Although, Levy’s incursions in Libya and other places have led some to accuse him of having a messiah complex, in “The Genius of Judaism,” Levy argues that “the whole truth” is that he does so as a French Jew who believes in a Messianic Judaism. What is Genius about Judaism, Levy says, is “The absolute reluctance at any dogma, frozen thoughts, admitted truth [that is] not fake. It gives to no one person to own the formula of the perfect community in front of which each human should kneel down and accept and revere.” In other words, there is no Jewish Pope to rate, rank or pass final judgment on Jewish practice and observance. And while Levy feels this empowers him in the secular, liberal Judaism he embraces, he also asks his fellow Jews not to shun the Ultra-Orthodox, for their right to maintain their place in the large tent of Judaism.

Which brings me back to Levy and the line with which he ends “The Genius of Genius”: “The trip has only just begun.” Which begs the question: Where does it lead next?”

To which Levy answers, “To studying more and knowing more.”

Such is the Genius of Judaism.

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CES 2017: 50 Years of seeing the Future

CES, the beast with 200,000 attendees and more than 30,000 exhibitors that sprawls across Las Vegas, taking over the entire North Center and South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and spills over to the Westgate, the Sands Expo halls, and the Venetian Hotel, as well as the Aria’s conference center, continues even in this digital age to make a potent case for attending to see first-hand new products and innovations abounding that touch every aspect of our increasingly connected lives.

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This is CES’ 50th iteration – In the five years that I’ve attended it has continued to grow, devoting increasing space to cars (which now market themselves as a technology play), football fields of stalls devoted to cities in China that produce consumer electronics, as well as increasing amounts of space to tech start ups from France, Israel, South Korea and The Netherlands. This year France made an incredibly strong showing featuring more than 200 companies/products not just Paris based companies but from all over France (19 French companies’ products were selected for CES Innovation awards (among them Parrot drones, In&Motion Ski airbag safety vests, and Hydrao, a smart shower controller).

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This year’s big news is that TVs have actually made such great leaps forward that most of us will probably buy new and better (and perhaps even bigger) TVs in the next 3-5 years. In the past, CES has always devoted substantial real estate to new TVs that seemed incrementally better (and larger) but not worth it, offering features that we were either never going to use (3D?) and that we didn’t care about (8K? Curved screens?). This year the TVs actually were demonstrably advanced in covet-worthy ways: They are impossibly thin, have better resolution, deliver more colors, and have improved sound – even while getting even bigger (77 inches is the new 65; 65 is the new 55). Among the notables that will become, affordable and essential with time, are Samsung’s QLED line (Quantum Dot technology provides a brighter screen than even OLEDs), LG’s OLED TVs (The W line is so thin that it can affix to the wall with magnets, and Sony’s Bravia A1 Series OLED – for which the entire screen is the speaker.

The other big headline is the integration of Amazon’s Alexa and voice control into home products. You might say: Who cares? Or: I have an Alexa but I really don’t use it to do much. All true. But Here’s the thing – all those people who are tech-phobic, who can’t program any device (particularly those who can’t figure out their phones or how to get to Netflix on their TV), and don’t order online – all those people know how to talk. “TV on” or “Order more 2% milk” is within their wheelhouse. With voice integration suddenly sophisticated technology becomes useable to everyone – that is a major development that is quickly coming to a device you’ll actually use.

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Drones are no longer a gimmick or toy. They are definitely now a category – there are professional drones, commercial drones, miniature drones. Young men have to have them. So do cameramen, real estate agents, and the same sports enthusiasts who adopted the GoPro. DJI seems to be killing the category (their Phantom 4 is remarkable) but there are many, many other companies entering the field. The next few years in the Drone wars will be interesting indeed.

There is a lot of investment in Virtual Reality (VR) and a lot more players in the space. However, based on what I saw at CES, the jury is still out on how each or any of us will use VR. By contrast, the laptop, whose death by tablet and smartphone was predicted a few years ago, is back in full force with Dell’s XPS13, HP’s Envy, and Lenovo’s X1 Carbon delivering superior performance in lightweight, aesthetically pleasing packages.

What really struck me at this year’s CES is the impact of Design Thinking and how the kind of industrial design that Apple is known for (sleek, attractive, ergonomic, functional) now permeates every category of consumer electronics. So, for example, if a car drives itself, how can you reimagine the interior? (One prototype is a home seating arrangement that retracts into the garage and the car). Over at Samsung and LG they have rethought the design of refrigerators – allowing screens on door to become see-though, or opening in different ways to allow easy access to the items you use most. Similarly, Sony has a whole lifestyle brand called UX which features short throw projectors such as the LSPX-P1, that can display images (moving or still) at sizes 22” to 80” in any direction – onto a table, a floor or a wall; as well as TVs that look to all the world like a painting and then transform into screens. Cool stuff.

Sensor driven devices continue to improve and now extend to almost any kind of human activity. So, for example, There were a lot of fertility indicators for those wanting (or not wanting) to get pregnant such as Fertiliti is a tracking device and app that helps a woman plot a variety of indicators to determine her most fertile days in her cycle. Omron now has a watch-like blood pressure monitor – Project Zero 2.0 which can take measurements all through the day (which is a more reliable indicator of blood pressure problems) that is awaiting FDA approval before coming to market. There are bands that can measure a whole variety of human functions, and in some cases help control them. One the weirder (and scarier) items I saw at CES was Pavlok – it’s a wristband that provides a little electric shock that is programmed to help change bad habits (smoking, nail biting, snacking). Could be right for you; but it scares me.

Speaking of personal, there are Toto toilets and washlets with remote control and deodorizers and driers and front back washing. In the category of connected things I’m not sure we need, Withings has partnered with Keratese (a L’Oreal owned brand) for a $200 connected hair brush, a “Hair coach.” that measures how you brush your hair as well its condition (and I assume then recommends beauty products to use).
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Technology now starts at the front door: Kwikset, Kevo and Baldwin all now make attractive electronic locks at every price point and in a variety of designs and styles (some allowing touch access, others providing electric keys, keypad codes, or delivering remote access via app). I particularly liked Kevo Convert ($149) which allows you to make your existing lock into a smart lock set.

Once inside the home, the next battlefront is improving Wifi reception – to which the answer is Mesh (as opposed to meh). Mesh is a thing. Luma ($399 for a three pack of hexagonal pucks) improves WiFi throughout your home, adds a layer of security protection, and allows to control (or even pause) internet usage in your home. A hexagonal puck and an app control. Another mesh offering, AmpliFi HD from Ubiquity, I found both attractive and impressive (I have been testing one). A stand alone unit plugs into the wall and retails for $99 (or a set of two and a router base for $349).
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While we’re in the home, we would be remiss if we didn’t say that connected lights which only a few years ago seemed gimmicky and expensive have now become commonplace. There are still expensive bulbs loaded with new features (speakers) or that claim to be better in one way or another, but there are now affordable systems. Killing in this category is Lutron, which has a three tiered level of connected lighting offerings, beginning with their Caseta series (best for one room), RadioRa 2 whole home system which increases functionality and connectivity with other services and devices (Sonos, Alexa, among others), and their top-of-the-line whole home (or whole mansion as the case may be) Homeworks QS which can control the lights inside and out, and the shade and sunlight inside the house, as well as the music and also integrates with yet more devices and appliances.
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Of course, since connected devices have to be part of everything you do, you need connected devices outside of the home, even for riding your bike. Coros makes a smart cycling helmet, Linx, which has bone conducting audio a separate smart remote you can affix to your handle bars – ears, eyes and hands free two way audio for music and calls, voice navigation anddate llooks like a traditional bike helmet, no wires, no earbuds – and emergency alerts should you fall. Babaali is a Chinese company that also makes a smart sports helmets and even a smart construction helmet. If you like the helmet you have, a great solution is Cosmo connected, a $99 device that attaches to the back of any helmet and functions as a connected brake light and initiates emergency calls within 3 minutes with GPS coordinates and medical information and can also alert family and friends in case of an emergency. And to go with your connected helmets, Deeper (the folks who brought you the smart fish finder) have created a smart bicycle lock – which if you are investing in an expensive bike or Ebike and have a connected helmet, you definitely need.

Another are where there seems to be rapid advances, new technology, and many players is what I’ll call: Noise & Sound.
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Blame it on the Iphone 7’s lack of an earphone, but wireless earbuds seemed everywhere. Some of the most impressive ones I tested were Skybuds ($219) offering great audio quality, a choice of ear buds for fit, a microphone and a long lasting rechargeable battery power (they offer a portable dock which can recharge the ear buds for up to 24 hours).

Beyond ear buds, change is coming to speakers. French company Akoustic Arts has developed a thin speaker, the “A” series, that can direct sound directly to a limited area )so for example diners at a restaurant could have different music playing at each table, or so that at a concert the sound in the front of the room sounds exactly like it does in the back of the room). At CES, they introduced a new product, the “b” series, which can make it so the kids watching videos in the back of the car doesn’t interfere with you listening to music in the front.

At the same time, audio technology is now also focusing on its ability to deliver the opposite of sound – that is quiet. Quiet On (ear buds that provide active noise cancelling). Tilde earphones from France’s orosound.com personal noise cancelling for office workers (but not for sleeping and snoring noise cancellation. Silent space has “sound masking” technology that limits the impact of noise in public spaces (it’s kind the opposite of a speaker; it makes it so that in co-working spaces, noise from one area won’t bleed into another). Yet they still can’t silence a snoring partner.

Each year at CES, I indulge in listening to impossibly high end audio equipment where, when Sting or James Taylor sings, you can hear each guitar string plucked. Metronome (another French success story) makes incredible CD players (and at around $5000 – I won’t say it’s worth it but if money is no object then indulge away). ELAC makes wonderful high end speakers (their new Andrew Jones designed bookshelf speakers are $2500 a pair) and high end music servers. Tivoli Audio and Como Audio, although pricey, continue to makes gorgeous little radios, streaming music players and mini systems.
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In the audio category, Audio-Technica continues its tradition of quality audio components including its AT_ART 1000 Direct Power phono cartridge, and its own line of turntables, including what may be the perfect starter turntable, Audio-Technica ‘s LP3, a fully automatic Belt Drive stereo turntable. Pro-Ject is also expanding its line of turntables in a wide variety of materials and finishes. Speaking of entry level, The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (at $399) is another great place to start your audiophile obsession. Technics is also back with its Ottava all-in-one premium Hi-Fi system that plays hi-res internet music as well as CDs and can be app controlled all in an elegant and sleek page – but it’s still priced north of $1500,

And each year, I continue to believe we are getting closer to adoption of Hi-Res Audio. I have to believe that the same people who buy all the headphones, vinyl records and turntables, now understand that the mp3 compressed music files kept on their phones are sonic junk food – and that with cheaper storage, faster streaming, larger audio files will become more popular. Last year, Neil Young’s Pono music player made a splash with a successful kickstarter campaign and the promise of portable hi-res audio – and seemed to disappear soon after. This year there were more Hi-res audio players (Astell & Kern, Sony, Hifiman, Onkyo, Pioneer, Marantz) and more companies who audio receivers can stream or play hi-res audio files including the relatively new MQA format. But the question remains: what will it take to get millennials to adopt it. This is a subject worthy of its own article and discussion in greater depth. But while at CES, I did discover the answer in all its wondrous simplicity. The short version is: Hi-Res music will become widely adopted when Spotify offers it. In the meantime, the often-maligned and dismissed-as-dead-or-dying Tidal music service, offers a high-res streaming music service ($20 a month) that may yet prove to be its unique selling proposition.

In the meantime, CES is always a grab bag (sometimes literally) of novel, mind-blowing, or just plain fun desirables. Here are few that caught my eye:
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SAM labs have created these amazing kits for kids, that with wireless smart building blocks and an app lets them build lego-like connected devices. It’s meant for children ages 7 and up – but even I could follow the easy directions and, in less than a minute, I had built a motorized drag racer from their kit. How great is that?
2017-01-31-1485824569-8012538-sirius_black_cherry_web_new.png Sirius B Black Cherry

I was also impressed by Ockel who have created a full function Windows 10 PC (Sirius B Black Cherry priced between $250-$350) that fits in your pocket – and their new Sirus Pro that is an attractive wedge that incorporates a screen which you can use to make VOIP calls, video chat, or watch media. Kind of a genius travel solution or a way to have an extra computer at your fingertips.

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In the “I want one but then what would I do with it” category is the impossibly attractive Munro 2.0, a stylish, retro designed electric motorbike (more of a moped than a bicycle than can go some 28 mph and has a 60 mile range).

Being a bit more practical, in the simple but useful category, Nemonic is a stylish little cube that sits on your desk and can wirelessly print sticky notes. Gnarbox is a $299 rugged portable unit smaller than a paperback (remember those?) that stores 4K video, backs up wirelessly, offers easy editing tools, and the ability to share 4K video and Raw photos. Perfect the GoPro filmmaker in your life. GoPlug which was awarded a 2017 CES Innovation award has a portable power bank, as well as bags designed to contain power when yours is running low, as well as AC power, GPS, Phone alerts and a movement alarm founded by Josh Cross and funded with a successful kickstarter design, but not inexpensive – the power bank costs $349 and the messenger bag and a smart power bank is $359. They even have a backpack with a solar panel.

Two apps that made an impression on me: AmpMe, is a brilliant app that allows a group of friends to have their phones all play the same song at the same time, making each phone an extra speaker for the party that is sure to follow. MySize an Israeli startup, has the free ap Sizeup which allows you to measure anything (up to about 20 feet) with your smartphone. They are also developing MySizeID a self measurement tool for purchasing clothes online and BoxSizeID a measurement app for packages and courier delivery. They are a public company (Nasdaq MYSZ)

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Finally, although at CES our feet are very much on the ground, it is a place for dreaming and reaching for the stars. In that vein, one of the coolest new items I saw was Tiny1 “the world’s smallest astronomy camera” – a pocket-sized camera that was created specifically to take pictures of the night sky moon and stars, and is equipped with smart features like a star map so you can know what you are aiming at, and the ability to transfer and share your images. It seems impossible that it can do as amazing a job as it does.

But then again, one could say the same about CES, even after 50 years.

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Writer’s Bone interview with Tom Teicholz

By Lindsey Wojcik

“It is hard to describe the delirium that accompanied each of those first publications. Each was some great victory and validation. Each felt like, in the words of the poet Charlie Sheen, ‘winning.’ It was as if I was climbing some imaginary mountain face and each published story was a new peak.”

Tom Teicholz nails the emotions that most journalists experience during the first few years of their career in the introduction to his collection of articles, Being There: Journalism 1978–2000. As a law student at Columbia University, Teicholz seemingly stumbled into his first assignment to interview Jerzy Kosinski for a free community newspaper that was distributed in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood. From there, his connections with editors and writers expanded, and essentially, his journalism career was launched.

Being There features articles with entertainers, literary, and film figures, as well as pieces on President Reagan’s trip to Bitburg, and the first Iraq war—among others. Teicholz recently took some time to talk to me about his writing process, his criteria for selecting which pieces to include in the collection, how journalism has changed since started in the industry, and why writers should “marry well.”

Lindsey Wojcik: What enticed you about being a writer? Did you always want to write or did something specific inspire you to pursue it?

Tom Teicholz: I’ve always been someone with a great memory who can record and report events, never been shy about expressing my opinion, and always been interested and loved to talking to new people. Starting around fourth grade friends of mine started forming bands and at first, I wrote songs for them. Later (around like sixth grade) having no musical or singing ability, I started to write poems. I had wonderful teachers in ninth grade (Wilson Alling) and in eleventh (Jane Bendetson) who encouraged me, and I went to college writing short stories and with the ambition of writing a novel. While at college, I started writing book reviews, in part because when I read a novel I had opinions and questions I wanted to ask the author, and that pretty much leads to where Being There starts…at the beginning of my career in journalism.

LW: What is your writing process like?

TT: It has evolved over the years—and in some ways remained the same. At first, for the interviews I did in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, it was all about preparing the questions so that the story would have a beginning, middle and end; and then editing the transcripts to maximum effect. When I started writing articles, at first I was just winging it, and they were somewhat more formal than necessary. Over the years, I found a voice (or voices) that I’m most comfortable using. I always try and focus on: What’s interesting about this to me and why should anyone else care? And equally important, or more, is: Tell the facts. When I’m not sure about the former, I do the latter, and once I do, I always figure out what it is I want to say.

LW: What was the drive behind creating the Being There: Journalism 1978-2000? What were you looking for when you were putting it together?

TT: I’ve been living in Los Angeles for 20 years and most of my friends—and readers—know me from my work here, but most of them don’t know all this great work I did at the start of my career when I was living in New York. Also, most of these articles appeared before there was Google, or even the Internet, so I wanted to collect them and put those stories back in circulation—many of which feature artists at the start of their career (Jeff Bridges, Roz Chast, Ian Frazier) or who are no longer living (Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jerzy Kosinski, Bill Graham) or have become masters of their craft (Tom McGuane, Cynthia Ozick).

LW: The book features essays about an eclectic mix of subjects ranging from A-list celebrities to politicians. How did you select which essays to include in the book?

TT: My criteria was simple: Does it still hold up? Is it interesting? Are you learning something you otherwise might not know?

LW: Were there any particular subjects featured in the book that you were intimidated by when you first started covering their stories?

TT: Of course! It takes a certain chutzpah to go head-to-head with Nobel Prize-winning authors or do a Paris Review interview with the august Cynthia Ozick, or be Michael Milken’s first interview after his time in prison. Each was intimidating in its own way. Also to write about the testimony of Holocaust survivors, about Treblinka, about Nazi War criminals being brought to justice, was daunting, even overwhelming. But I just kept telling myself that if I could build what I called a “Cathedral of Facts,” I would be okay.

LW: You’ve picked up some awards over the course of your career. How did the process of putting together this collection of essays allow you to reflect on your career?

TT: It’s funny: Each piece is its own adventure, but then they are published and they fade from one’s consciousness. Pulling all these articles together, re-reading them, and having them stack up into a book was tremendously gratifying. It is the satisfaction of putting (at least the first part of) your house in order. The second part is The Best of Tommywood, which will be published next year.

LW: Journalism has undergone quite the transformation since you first got in the business. What has impacted you the most from that change and how have you adapted?

TT: A combination of the Internet, in all its Shiva-destroyer-of-industries power, the bust-and-booms of the Internet bubbles, and the recession changed everything. At one moment, it seemed like those changes were for the worst: Publications went away and those that remained were paying a fraction of what they did—same for book publishers. And people started saying things like “Content wants to be free.” And there were all these startups—content farms among them, that believed mass producing stories at below minimum wage amounts was “good enough.”

I spent about a year complaining and despairing of being able to make a living writing. Then when the dust settled, a few things became clear. Not all content is created equal. People (and the advertisers and brands who are trying to influence them) want authenticity and they want quality—and that is something that, once again, magazines, book publisher, websites, and brands are willing to pay for. Moreover, one of the things that the Internet leveled was the walls that existed between different types of paid writing—journalism, advertising, publicity, not-for-profits, museums—everyone understands now that you need to make a living. There is no selling out: You are your own brand and you take your integrity with you to each assignment. And as long as you are transparent about any potential conflicts, no one minds. Although it now takes three times as many gigs to make one paycheck from the glory days, that’s okay because today there are more places to write for and places to publish than ever before. There is no piece that you write that you can’t publish—even if you have to publish it yourself. And today, “Content is King.”

LW: You do quite a bit of freelance work. How can young journalists become a successful freelancers in this market?

TT: Same as ever: Write a lot, pitch a lot, hang out a lot, follow up a lot, be opportunistic, entrepreneurial, find a home for your work (even if you have to create it yourself), and let people know about your work.

LW: Where do you think the future of the trade is going?

TT: I can’t say. I don’t know how long-form investigative journalism, particularly foreign stories, will continue to be supported. And if publishers don’t pay writers enough to live on while they are writing a book, that too will have an impact. However, there will always be people who see a story, or have a story to tell, who feel they have no other choice than to tell it on whatever platform in whatever media they can. And writers will continue to have side-gigs, or teaching gigs, or commercial writing gigs to support writing those stories that they would be happy to publish for free (even if they have to).

LW: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and what advice do you offer up-and-coming journalists?

TT: The best advice I received about freelancing was: Be your own bank. Income as a writer is irregular and the rent is due the first of the month. You have to learn how to finance your writing career via credit lines, savings, etc. You have to live a sustainable life to have a sustainable career.

And the advice that I sometimes give up-and-coming journalists is: Marry well. By that I don’t mean marry for money. What I mean is that the writing life is hard, sometimes lonely, and requires a certain selfishness, as well as moments of grandiosity and self-delusion. You need a great partner to be your support, your inspiration, your motivation, and your reality check. I am fortunate that my wife, Amy Rappeport is mine, and I wish such good fortune on all writers.

To learn more about Tom Teicholz, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @TomTeicholz.

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Copyright 2017 Tommywood

Ebikes: I Sing the Ride Electric

Let me make a prediction: You will buy an E-Bike, and like me, you will love having one.

2016-12-26-1482782513-3355061-WallerangM02Xpreview.png Wallerang Ebike

Over the last six months, I’ve been testing a wide variety of E-bikes and have come to believe strongly that E-bikes are in the future for many of us, specifically those over 50, but in time, for everyone. I’ve tested bikes from brands you know such as Trek, Specialized and Raleigh, and ones you haven’t such as Swedish Ebike company Wallerang (which turned out to be my favorite but more on that later).

An E-bike is a two-wheeled bicycle-like personal transport device that has a motor that is powered in part by a rechargeable battery. In some cases pedaling the bike engages the battery (pedal assist bikes) or even recharges it (although that is not always the case). Others have a throttle. Either way, a motor is engaged that helps power the bike faster, or makes hills or upwards grades easier. In cases where you might have dismounted and walked the bike up a hill, you can now cruise; where others passed you, you can now pass them.

Your friends may think of an Ebike as cheating or tell you that if you are not pedaling all the time, what’s the point. They do not get it: An Ebike allows you to bike more often, in more places — and for those who rately bike at all, it creates a compelling, easy reason to do so.

With an Ebike suddenly you can take rides and bike trips that seemed daunting; or work commutes that you feared would make you sweaty are suddenly manageable. It also gives a psychological boost – it increases when you might ride and how often and opens up a world of biking to those who thought it too much work. As I said, perfect for aging boomers who want the illusion of youth without the work.

My romance with Ebikes started about six months ago when I came into possession of a first generation Ebike by A2B. To Read More:
Let me make a prediction: You will buy an E-Bike, and like me, you will love having one.

2016-12-26-1482782513-3355061-WallerangM02Xpreview.png Wallerang Ebike

Over the last six months, I’ve been testing a wide variety of E-bikes and have come to believe strongly that E-bikes are in the future for many of us, specifically those over 50, but in time, for everyone. I’ve tested bikes from brands you know such as Trek, Specialized and Raleigh, and ones you haven’t such as Swedish Ebike company Wallerang (which turned out to be my favorite but more on that later).

An E-bike is a two-wheeled bicycle-like personal transport device that has a motor that is powered in part by a rechargeable battery. In some cases pedaling the bike engages the battery (pedal assist bikes) or even recharges it (although that is not always the case). Others have a throttle. Either way, a motor is engaged that helps power the bike faster, or makes hills or upwards grades easier. In cases where you might have dismounted and walked the bike up a hill, you can now cruise; where others passed you, you can now pass them.

Your friends may think of an Ebike as cheating or tell you that if you are not pedaling all the time, what’s the point. They do not get it: An Ebike allows you to bike more often, in more places — and for those who rately bike at all, it creates a compelling, easy reason to do so.

With an Ebike suddenly you can take rides and bike trips that seemed daunting; or work commutes that you feared would make you sweaty are suddenly manageable. It also gives a psychological boost – it increases when you might ride and how often and opens up a world of biking to those who thought it too much work. As I said, perfect for aging boomers who want the illusion of youth without the work.

My romance with Ebikes started about six months ago when I came into possession of a first generation Ebike by A2B. TO READ MORE….http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-teicholz/ebikes-i-sing-the-ride-el_b_13860700.html

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Copyright 2017 Tommywood

Being There (and hanging out) 1978–2000

The following is excerpted from the introduction to “Being There:Journalism 1978–2000” By Tom Teicholz (Rare Bird Books, a Vireo Book).

Here’s how my journalism career began: I was in my first year at Columbia Law School and was working as a Democratic Party volunteer, election night November 1977. There was a special election and, for some reason that I can no longer remember, the final votes were being tabulated in a building on 15th Street off Union Square that was the infamous Tammany Hall of the Teapot Dome scandal. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Copyright 2016 Tommywood

Leonard Cohen’s Calling

“Hineni, hineni

I’m ready, my Lord”

With these words that Abraham, the biblical patriarch spoke when God called upon him, Cohen begins, “You want it darker,” the title tune of his final album, Released a few weeks before Cohen’s untimely death in Los Angeles on November 7, 2016 at age 82, Cohen’s nine new songs recorded in his home over the last year are a powerful farewell, elegant and poetic yet cleared-eyed in the face of imminent death. Very much like Cohen himself. TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Copyright 2016 Tommywood

Pop goes the Skirball with Lichtenstein’s Prints

In my office, I have a Time magazine cover from 1968, that I framed for myself as a child (the marks where I pulled off my parents’ subscription info are still there). It’s a portrait of Robert F. Kennedy giving a speech, drawn as a comic book hero and secular saint in Pop Art style by Roy Lichtenstein. The cover appeared on May 24, 1968, during the Presidential primary season as Kennedy’s popularity was surging. A few weeks later, Kennedy was dead, murdered after his acceptance speech at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California primary. I have kept that framed cover on my wall ever since, in my childhood room, dorm rooms, and in my offices, faded as it had become, to remind me of the promise of Bobby Kennedy and the dreams for America that his campaign ignited.
TO READ MORE CLICK HERE

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Copyright 2016 Tommywood