Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bicycling in Peru: An Art of Adaptation

Note: This article is part of an Ecoworldly series on the topic of bicycling. This week our writers are discussing the activity and its importance in a number of countries around the world. Please check at the bottom for links to more entries and check throughout the week for additional entries in this series.

In some places in Peru it is just as common to see people bicycling as it is driving cars. Most Peruvians cannot afford cars and for this reason, bicycles provide an excellent, inexpensive means of quick transportation. Peruvians also are masters at modifying their bicycles in creative ways so that they can be used to transport goods and tools for their work and businesses. Fruits, vegetables, construction materials, ice cream, meat, bananas, pets, and countless other items can be transported by bicycle, when a cart has been added. Unlike in the United States though, these aren’t your everyday bicycle carts.

The Most Common Bicycle Adaptation in Peru is Putting a Cart in Front of the Bicycle (and Unlike a Cart in Front of a Horse, this Strategy Works)

While there are other adaptations made to bicycles here, it is most common to see people who have attached large carts to the fronts of their bicycles (see the photo above for an example). One of the things I find most interesting about this adaptation is how when people drive these large, bulky creations, they almost never crash into other objects like cars. People learn how to maneuver these bicycle-carts down narrow streets with extreme accuracy. I also wonder if the drivers of these carts build monster calf muscles. I can’t even imagine bicycling with all of that weight while maintaining vigilance for oncoming traffic. Occasionally, though you do see people walking with their carts, rather than riding with them.

So why do Peruvians put their carts in the front of their bicycles rather than the back? I can only speculate, but I have two major guesses for why this is so. The first is that it helps the owner of the bicycle to make sure that none of her or his goods are being stolen. Theft is a problem in Peru because of the extreme levels of poverty here, and if you can’t see your possessions, then they might be as good as gone. The other reason I might figure for the cart being placed in front is for the personal safety of the bicycle rider in the event of a crash. It should provide some buffer for the rider if they, for example, have a banana-cushion in front of them. But I guess, if it’s bananas, then a crash could also cause a humorous incident of people slipping on the peels! (please, please… I know, your knee must be hurting after all the slapping that’s been going on after reading that past sentence. Also, has anyone ever actually seen someone slip on a banana?) Readers, any idea why the cart is placed in the front? Is it matter of balance or stopping the cart?

Bicycling, Although Practical and Inexpensive, Can Also be Dangerous in Peru

It is more common in some Peruvian cities than others to see people riding and using bicycles. In Peru’s capital city of Lima, for instance, if you don’t know what you are doing you are likely to get killed bicycling. I used to ride my bicycle regularly in Boston, so I feel confident in my assessment of the matter. The aggressive style of driving most Limeños are accustomed to using makes bicycling dangerous, as ad-lib maneuvers are common by drivers trying to get where they want to go as quickly as possible.

In other cities, where the mood is more likely to be calmer (or it least more manageable), you are more likely to see more people bicycling for pleasure and for transportation. In the rainforest city of Iquitos for example, there used to be numerous taxicholos, bicycles modified to have seats for paying passengers. Now, there tend to be more mototaxis, motorcycles adapted to have seats for paying passengers. Probably the reasons for this change include the added speed of motorcycles, their added safety in comparison to bicycles (safety from other vehicles that is), and the advantage provided to the driver, who does not need to use as much strength and energy this way.

I am Planning to Come Visit Peru this Winter, is There Anywhere Where I Can Bicycle?

Yes! Don’t be intimidated by the comments made above. There are many places in Peru where bicycling can be safe and fun. Companies often guide biking tours throughout Peru and there are also countless roads outside of major cities that can make for beautiful and enjoyable rides. Many tour agencies and companies in Peru rent bikes and also lead tours. Some good resources for learning more about bicycle tours in Peru include this website and also the website for Cicloturismo Peru (Cycle touring Peru).

Other Articles in Ecoworldly’s Bicycling Series

If You Want a Blissful Sex Life, Don’t Ride a Bike! by Sam Aola Ooko

Cyclists & Pedestrians– An Uneasy Mix by Mark Seall

Photo Credit: Levi T. Novey ©

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Americans Still Ugly? Travel with a Vengeance!

While growing up in Ireland, my favorite tourists were always Americans. I loved their swagger, tanned faces, booming voices, white socks, and new sneakers. I enjoyed hearing about their great-great-grandmothers, and as a waitressing teenager, I enjoyed the big fat tip I got for listening to their stories.

But I’m not the only one with an opinion. Expedia recently polled more than 4,000 hoteliers across the globe for feedback on the world’s travelers. Participants provided opinions on the best overall travelers, as well as ten specific categories rating popularity, behavior, manners, a willingness to learn the language and try local cuisine, generosity, tidiness, fashion sense, and propensity to complain. The survey confirmed my teenage belief that Americans are indeed the world’s most generous tourists; but sadly, it seems not everyone appreciates a shiny pair of sneakers. I think it’s high time Americans did something about this …

Best in Show
The Japanese won top tourist prize and are considered by hoteliers across the globe to be the best tourists. German and British tourists tied for second place, followed by the Canadians and Swiss. American tourists came in at number eleven overall.

What’s a Yank to Do?
Complain about Japanese tourists every time you stay in a hotel. Also, lord it over the Irish, Czechs, Turks, French, Russians, Mexicans, Portuguese, and the Brazilians that you beat!

Best Dressed
I had never heard the term “Ugly American” as a kid, but even I knew that fanny packs and high-waisted plaid shorts were not pretty. Living here now, I know that not everyone dresses in corduroy pants, sequin sweaters, and brilliant white socks up to their calves, but the image and reputation of the ugly American is a hard one to shake. Americans rated last for fashion sense in Expedia’s poll, with the best-dressed award going to the Italians and the French.

What’s a Yank to Do?
You could accidentally pick up an Italian or French traveler’s luggage at baggage claim (hey, it’s survival of the most fashionable) or just leave your “comfortable” clothes at home.

Squeakiest Wheels
When I first arrived in the states, I used to blush every time my American relatives “made a scene” in a restaurant, bar, or hotel. Now, many years later I can throw my weight around with the best of them. I’ve learned that here in America, the squeaky wheel really does get the grease, but abroad the squeaky wheel gets rotten tomatoes. Apparently hoteliers of the world find that Americans are the least polite, often keeping their neighbors awake at night. Japanese, Chinese, and Canadians were voted cheeriest tourists.

What’s a Yank to Do?
Complain of course! Or ask for a room next to an uncomplaining Canadian tourist.

Biggest Spenders
Sure the world’s hoteliers have no problem complaining to Expedia about your manners or habits, but they’re not complaining when you’re buying up all their seashell souvenirs and after-sun soothers in their lobby shops. Americans were called loud, unfashionable, impolite, and messy in this survey, but they can never be called tight. The tightest tourist awards go to the French, the Dutch, and the Brits.

What’s a Yank to Do?
Well the dollar’s not worth a damn anyway, so you may as well give it away. (Consider throwing some of your money at a personal stylist so that you can at least be the best-dressed big spender.)

Culturally Curious
Next time someone (preferable a Frenchman) gives you a hard time for your talking or eating habits, be sure to point out that American travelers lead the way when it comes to making an effort to learn a few key sayings in the local language and sampling local delicacies. The French, Chinese, and Japanese were the least likely to incorporate the local language, and the Chinese, Indians, and Japanese have the least interest in the culinary styles of the places they visit. So there!

What’s a Yank to Do?
Talk and eat baby, talk and eat.

Best Messers
While Americans make the greatest effort to absorb the local culture, they also make the biggest mess in their hotel rooms; but really, who has time to tidy with all that culture to be absorbed? (Actually, the Germans do—but they’re just showoffs).

What’s a Yank to Do?
You’re messy, but you’re also generous, so tip the cleaning service more and ask them to say you were tidy.

Most Popular at Home
Whatever about being popular abroad, I was most interested in the category of “most popular in their native countries.” Americans were not the most popular in their own country—this distinction went to the Canadians, but keep in mind the Canadians are also the most cheerful and uncomplaining, so of course they love themselves. The least popular tourists in their native countries were the Spanish, Mexicans, French, British, and Greeks.

What’s a Yank to Do?
Plan a staycation. You can’t afford the gas/baggage fees/currency exchange rates anyway, so why not vacation where you are under the radar?

Most travel experts will offer tips to ensure that you don’t live up to the messy, noisy, or complaining clichés associated with American tourists. They’ll tell you to tone it down, clean it up, and cut it out. I say be who you are and continue to be inspired to be culturally curious on your travels this summer. Also, please don’t forget to tip your Irish waitress.

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Meet the real bionic woman - the mother who has had almost all her joints replaced

By the end of the month, the only major joint in Eileen Brown's body she can truly call her own is likely to be her elbow.

All the rest - shoulder, hip and knees and left elbow - will be replacement ones given to her in 20 years of operations.

That 49-year-old Mrs Brown, who has three grandchildren, can still stand up is a tribute to the bionic technology of the surgeons and her own indomitable spirit.

For much of her life, Mrs Brown has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.

It has damaged her joints to such an extent that only her right elbow and left hip are her own - and the hip is due to go very soon.

A dozen operations and countless procedures meant Mrs Brown had so much metal inside her that she set off airport alarms on a visit to the U.S.

Mrs Brown, of Boldon Colliery, near Sunderland, said: 'I have to put up with horrendous pain, but you just have to get on with things. I have my good days and bad, but you've got to stay positive and never give up.'

Mrs Brown, who lives with her husband Brian, 52, has had all her operations on the NHS at the Sunderland Royal Hospital. 'I've been in hospital so many times they've all kind of merged into each other,' she said.

Most people don't start suffering from the disabling disease until they are in their 40s. But Mrs Brown first went to the doctors in pain in her late 20s.

Initially it was put down to 'growing pains'. She was then diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants, before the real cause was identified and the years of surgery began.

'The specialists at the hospital were really surprised I'd been put on tablets for depression - I've never been depressed in my life,' she said.

Mrs Brown has had at least a dozen major operations and countless surgical procedures over the last 20 years to have joints replaced in the shoulder, elbow, hip and knees. She can even tell friends when rain is due because damp weather makes her condition play up.

'I've spent a really long time in hospital and have to put up with horrendous pain, but you just have to get on with things, it's all you can do,' she says. 'I have my good days and bad, but you've got to stay positive and never give up.'

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Good as new: An X-Ray of Mrs Brown's replacement left shoulder...

... and her right shoulder has been replaced too

Mrs Brown's operations began in the late 1980s after rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed in the fingers of her left hand.

About three years later, the pain had become so unbearable it was decided her knuckle should be replaced with a plastic joint.

By the 1990s her wrists had fused together, leaving her unable to bend her hands, then her right knee started playing up.

She said:'At first they said I was too young for a new knee, so I had to have alternative treatments, but that didn't help me.'

Doctors decided Mrs Brown would benefit from a metal knee replacement, and this was shortly followed by her left shoulder being replaced with a metal joint too.

Pain free: Mrs Brown also had her right hip replaced

Mrs Brown's operations began in the late 1980s after rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed in the fingers of her left hand.

About three years later, the pain had become so unbearable it was decided her knuckle should be replaced with a plastic joint.

By the 1990s her wrists had fused together, leaving her unable to bend her hands, then her right knee started playing up.

She said:'At first they said I was too young for a new knee, so I had to have alternative treatments, but that didn't help me.'

Doctors decided Mrs Brown would benefit from a metal knee replacement, and this was shortly followed by her left shoulder being replaced with a metal joint too.

Mrs Brown

Mrs Brown, seen here with some of the medication she takes, almost died after she contracted septicaemia following a fall

Just before 2000, she started experiencing pain again, and this time it was her right shoulder joint which needed replacing.

Her medical problems took a twist when fell from a ladder while cleaning in 2003 - breaking the metal joint in her left shoulder and the bone in her upper arm.

'I was in agony,' she said. 'I couldn't believe it had happened. Of course it wasn't a case of just resetting my bones back together, that would have been too simple.'

Unfortunately, Mrs Brown contracted septicaemia, and her metal shoulder had to be removed. The infection spread down the left arm, so the upper bone also had to be taken out and instead filled with a special type of padding.

To make matters worse, the infection then spread to her right shoulder, and a section of damaged bone had to be removed too.

Despite being pumped with antibiotics she became critically ill and doctors didn't expect her to survive.

She was read the Last Rites in hospital but miraculously pulled through and made a full recovery.

As a legacy of her problems she can no longer raise her arms above shoulder height. 'It's a pain wearing bras and strappy tops. They just slip down because my shoulders cannot keep them up.'

Mrs Brown went on to have her left elbow replaced after she could no longer straighten it, and she was given a new right hip in December 2006 because she was unable to walk properly.

She said: 'Most people are stuck in bed for about two weeks after they've had a new hip, but I was walking after three days.'

Mrs Brown's most recent operation in April left her with a new type of replacement knee made mainly out of plastic.

She has also been diagnosed with arthritis in her neck, and osteoporosis in the bottom of her spine. But she's keeping her spirits up by looking forward to her 50th birthday later this month.

'I'm on the waiting list for a left hip, so that might come in time for my birthday, you never know.'

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Hypnosis - myths and facts

The Hypnotist will be able to control my mind.
No one can control your mind, unless you let them. Your Hypnotherapist will give you suggestions that you want to be given, based on the Pre-Hypnotic Interview. At no point during your session will you lose control of your mind. If you hear a suggestion that you don't agree with, or don't understand, your subconscious mind will automatically reject it.

I will be made to perform embarrassing acts, such as bark like a dog, or walk like a duck.
This assumption is based on Stage Hypnotism and Hollywood fiction. The truth is, these people volunteer to act on stage, and thy allow themselves to participate in silly suggestions. Hypnotherapy is a serious process of self-improvement, not entertainment.

Hypnosis comes from "Black Magic" or is "Supernatural".
Hypnosis is a natural state that has been studied scientifically. Hypnotherapists are not Psychics or Palm Readers with "special powers". Hypnotherapy is based on many years of clinical research by famous Psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

If I become Hypnotized, I may not be able to snap out of it, or Hypnosis is Dangerous.
Hypnosis is very safe and is in fact, a state of hyper-awareness. Any time there is an emergency, a person would naturally be able to come out of the Hypnotic state by opening their eyes, and stretching or speaking.

I have never been in Hypnosis before.
Every person naturally enters a state of hypnosis at least twice everyday: just before falling asleep at night, and upon awaking every morning, before getting out of bed. Most people easily enter "Environmental Hypnosis" while at the movies, watching TV, driving on the highway, or while reading a good book.

Hypnosis is a "Miracle Cure".
While Hypnosis is a relatively quick method of making permanent improvements, there is no such thing as a one-time "Hypno-Miracle"! Every individual makes progress at his or her own rate. Be weary of those who make wild claims of overnight success.

Hypnosis is a great tool to get someone to "confess".
Hypnotherapy sessions are kept private and cannot be used for court testimony. It is not an alternative to lie detector tests. Hypnosis cannot force anyone to "tell the truth" or to confess.

When Hypnotized, I will lose all sense of my surroundings, and will have no memory of the session.
hypnosis is not an unconscious state of sleep. In fact, most people report having a heightened sense of awareness, concentration and focus, and can even hear more acutely during a session.

Self-Hypnosis is safer, better, or more effective than going to a trained professional.
Self-Hypnosis can be detrimental when not taught by a trained professional, as a negative attitude or belief about oneself will be reinforced regardless of suggestions given. This can cause more stress and problems in the long run. Hypnotherapy directly accesses the subconscious mind, while Self-Hypnosis cannot.

I can't be hypnotized because my mind is too strong.
Basically anyone can be hypnotized as long as they do not belong to the following groups of people:
- children who are age under 4;
- people who are mentally challenged;
- people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
- people who are unwilling to be hypnotized.

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Researchers block transmission of malaria in animal tests

By disrupting the potassium channel of the malaria parasite, a team of researchers has been able to prevent new malaria parasites from forming in mosquitoes and has thereby broken the cycle of infection during recent animal tests.

By genetically altering the malaria parasite through gene knock-out technol-ogy, a research team consisting of scientists at the University of Copenha-gen and John Hopkins University, Baltimore, has prevented the parasite from going through the normal stages of its life cycle and developing a cyst (egg-like structure or occyst), which spawns new infectious parasites." As it is exclusively the parasites from these oocysts that can infect new individu-als, we were able to prevent the disease from being transmitted to the animals in our tests", explains Assistant Professor, Peter Ellekvist from the University of Copenhagen.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, (2008 105: 6398-6402).

The intervention "disrupts" the parasites complex life cycle

The malaria parasite has an extremely complicated lifecycle, which starts with the fertilisation of the parasites male and female gametes and the formation of an oocyst, in the mosquito's stomach wall. The oocyst further de-velops into sporozoittes, which travel up the mosquito's salivary gland and from there are transmitted to people, when the mosquito secures its next blood meal. After residing for a short period in the liver cells, the parasites then infect the red blood cells, thereby wreaking havoc in the human body. The malaria parasites are able to reproduce both through sexual reproduction when they inhabit a mosquito (and are transmitted to the host) and via asexual reproduction when they reside in the human body (replication in the host). For scientists to successfully counteract malaria, they must tackle both the transmission from person to person by the mosquitoes and the spread of the malaria parasites in the infected individual.

The potassium channels are important for all cells

All animal and plant cells contain so-called ion channels. These are small pores which allow ions to move in and out through an otherwise impermeable cell membrane. The potassium channels are a sub-type of ion channel, found in all cells. Though the function of the potassium channels vary, they play a crucial role in a variety of biological processes, e.g. influencing the ability of the nerves to send electrical signals and the heart muscle to contract rhythmically.

Assistant Professor Peter Ellekvist explains that his interest in malaria led to a research collaboration with Professor Dan Klжrke, who studies potassium channels at the University of Copenhagen. In collaboration with Professor Nirbhay Kumar and other colleagues from the Malaria Research Institute at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, the two researchers were able to manipulate the parasite's genes so as to ensure that the potassium channel no longer functioned. To their surprise, however, this intervention did not, in the first instance, appear to have any effect on the parasites.

"The gene knock-out parasites essentially killed the mice in the animal tests just as quickly as the "natural" parasites, that had not undergone genetic manipulation," explains Peter Ellekvist. "However, we found that the only parasites that were unable to reproduce sexually, were those with non-functioning potassium channels."

The experiments had effectively disrupted the insect's ability to pass on the disease.

Further research required

The next step for the research team is to examine whether parasites with non-functioning potassium channels react differently to anti-malaria drugs. A success here would allow the researchers to break the second phase of the infection cycle and prevent the asexual reproduction of the malaria parasites that have already gained access to the human body. Blocking the potassium channels of parasites in the body could, for example, render them more susceptible to anti-malaria drugs. Further testing is also required to see whether the manipulation of the potassium channels may also affect the other stages of the parasites lifecycle, such as their development within the liver cells.

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Fresh hurdle for stem cell hunt

Stem cell research
Stem cells may be more varied than previously thought

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist says it could be tougher than first thought to harness the healing power of stem cells in medicine.

It had been hoped a single "master" cell could potentially be used to repair all damage in a single organ.

Professor Mario Capecchi, from the University of Utah, found surprising clues that different stem cells might be working together in the same organ.

This means experimental treatments relying on the wrong type might fail.

If you're going to do therapy, you have to recognise this complexity
Professor Mario Capecchi
University of Utah

Professor Capecchi, writing in the Nature Genetics, said the finding suggested stem cell biology could be "more complicated" than previously thought, which could be bad news for patients hoping for the swift arrival of new therapies.

Cell maker

Unlike the majority of cells in the body, stem cells have special qualities.

They not only reproduce themselves, but can produce a wide variety of the cells needed in different parts of the body.

In their most potent form, in the embryo, they have the ability to create any tissue in the body, but cells with more limited, but still useful, abilities have been found in the organs of adults.

Some scientists believe that if these "adult stem cells" could be found and extracted, they could form the basis of treatments, without the controversy surrounding the use of embryos.

However, Professor Capecchi's work means that identifying the most useful cells will not necessarily be straightforward.

He developed a new way of tracking the position of adult stem cells in the intestines of mice.

Unexpectedly, however, he found the cells not spread evenly through the organ, but clustered mostly in the upper third of the intestine.

Complex picture

This means, he said, that other as yet unidentified adult stem cells are likely to be at work renewing tissues elsewhere in the gut.

Creating therapies using one type might have only a limited effect on the organ as a whole.

Professor Capecchi said: "People always thought about a uniform stem cell population in each organ, but now we are saying there are multiple stem cell populations in a given organ, so if you're going to do therapy, you have to recognise this complexity.

"It's important because people are talking about stem cell therapy, they want to stick in stem cells to treat disease."

He said that there was no reason why it should be different in other organs under investigation.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell specialist from the Medical Research Council, said the finding fitted with other evidence suggesting the presence of different stem cell types.

"This says we actually have two populations of stem cells in the same organ."

He said: "I can see no reason why this also won't be the case in other parts of the body, such as the central nervous system.

"It's important that we find out which is the most useful cell in these organs, if we want to use them in therapies."

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3 surefire ways to waste gas

I have been reading an awful lot of stories regarding two wheeled motorcycles or scooters as a better way to deal with the high gas prices. I total disagree after all its only money right? Here are 3 simples steps that you can follow to waste as much gas as possible when riding a motorcycle.

2004 Suzuki Hayabusa

1) Get yourself a big fast motorycycle that has some engine work done to it. Do not go for a slow economical scooter that gets great gas mileage that runs on 87 Octane. My choice is my bike in the photo above. I have a 2004 Suzuki Hayabusa that has a big bore kit in it, all the smog stuff has been removed, and I have taken the stock header off and put a pipe on it. This motorcycle sucks gas down like nobodies business. This bike is bored out to 1350CC which is a great gas hog and needs to run premium gas instead of lower octane which is cheaper.

The best way to waste gas is to find the most expensive gas possible

2) Next find a gas station that has high gas prices. The best I was able to do was $4.99 a gallon and there are higher prices out there but I wanted to do some riding so I settled. If I looked harder I probably could have found something in the $5.07 range or something like that.

A big group of motorcycle riders is a great way to get somebody to do something stupid.

3) Get a group of idiotic friends together that also enjoy wasting money on gas and don’t care about the law. Preferably a group of friends that also have Hayabusa’s but they key is a good sized group. The purpose here is everybody like to show off in a group. You encourage eachother to do things like high speed runs at 180MPH on the freeway, Wheelies, Burnouts and basically racing your bike everywhere you go. This is a great way to waste gas.

Now there are a few things to consider and I kind of contradicted myself a bit. When I mentioned not carrying about that law I didn’t mean go to Beverly Hills and act like a jackass and get a ticket for sure, you need to go down into the hood. My choice is in the Inglewood, Compton and Venice Area’s in Los Angeles, California. You can get away with alot more stuff here because the cops are usually busier busting crackheads and people doing heavier criminal activities than the ones you are about to engage in.

This first video clip shows Hayabusa’s going at it on the 105 freeway. The video is a little sketchy because I was filming while hanging on with one hand and I had to dodge a car. I would say by the time these guys where at full speed they were well over 180MPH wide open which is a great way to suck down gas. Also at the end of the clip my friend is doing a wheelie which is another good gas burner.

This second video clip shows what a good pack of friends looks like and when you have a good pack like this you are guaranteed to have some good gas wasting going on.

This third video clip has a couple good burnouts from me and my friend. When you are smoking your tires and hitting the rev limiter in 2nd gear you are pushing the bike to the limit thus burning maximum gas.Well that is all the information that I can give you on making your motorcycle as inefficient as possible when you are riding it during a gas crisis. Always ride safe and with a friend, don’t get a ticket and make sure everybody comes home in one piece. Safety First!

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Guy Survival Chemistry - Mix Your Own Cleaning Solutions

She's coming over in a half hour and your place is a wreck from the poker game last night. You go to clean the stale beer coagulating with chip crumbs on the coffee table, and realize you're out of glass cleaner. Screwed? Not if you know what to grab from your kitchen.

Using only three main ingredients: water, baking soda and white vinegar, you can cook up some homemade cleaners that'll get your place back to date-shape before she shows up. And for a helluva lot less than the cleaners you buy in the store.

All Purpose Cleaning Solution:
1 cup Vinegar
1 cup Water
1 spray bottle

Pour vinegar and water into a spray bottle and shake. Use this for daily wipe-downs of the counter in your kitchen or bathroom, or for small spills on the stove-top. If you want to add some scent use one or two drops of lemon, orange or pine oil and shake the bottle before use. These oils are great for helping to remove stains, and tea-tree and eucalyptus oil work as excellent disinfectants. Don't worry about the smell of the vinegar overpowering the essential oil. Vinegar dissolves quickly and doesn't leave behind a smell.

If you want an all-purpose kitchen cleaner add a teaspoon of liquid dish detergent and shake well before use. (For tough stains in the bathtub or toilet bowl, use straight, undiluted white vinegar.)

Window Cleaner:
1 cup Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
1 cup Water
1 tablespoon White vinegar
1 spray bottle

Mix in a spray bottle, shake, and use on glass or chrome surfaces. The rubbing alcohol dissolves rapidly keeping your glass streak-free. For really dirty glass, or for cleaning the outside of windows, use non-sudsing ammonia instead of vinegar. Just be careful not to inhale the fumes and to protect your hands with rubber gloves while mixing in the ammonia.

Furniture Polish:
1/2 teaspoon Olive oil
1/4 cup Vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Pour in a spray bottle and shake. Spray a bit onto a cloth and apply to wood surfaces. The oil replenishes the wood, helping your old furniture look like new.

Original here

To Create Its Hits, a Company Takes Its Toys on Tour

The science of toy marketing has come a long way since Wham-O started giving away Hula-Hoops to children on playgrounds in the 1950s. Yet one of the hottest toys in stores this year owes its success to a marketing campaign straight from the Eisenhower era.

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Spin Master

To promote Bakugan Battle Brawlers, Spin Master leaned on events more than ads.

Spin Master

Spin Master has used van tours to promote Air Hogs, a line of tiny remote-controlled aircraft. The vans would visit air shows.

Last summer, teams of college interns roamed the Canadian countryside in large, colorful vans introducing children at summer camps and local fairs to Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a game played with small plastic balls that snap open into monsters when rolled across magnetic trading cards.

The trip took place months before the toys were available in stores or advertised on television, but it generated plenty of under-age word of mouth. When the toys hit stores in September, they sold out almost immediately, and even today retailers struggle to keep them in stock.

Bakugan Battle Brawlers are “one of the genuine hits of the spring toy season, for sure,” said Kathleen Waugh, a spokeswoman for Toys “R” Us. “They sell out the minute they hit the store shelves.”

Genuine hits in the toy industry are rare these days, particularly for products like Bakugan that need some explaining and lack familiar characters. But the company behind the product is Spin Master, a 14-year-old toy seller known for a grass-roots approach to marketing and a nimble strategy that has brought it a string of successes.

In 2007, Spin Master’s sales grew by more than 60 percent, while the $22 billion toy industry experienced a 2 percent dip in sales, according to the NPD Group, a research company. Some Spin Master toys that are not new, like Moon Sand, Tech Deck and Air Hogs, were among the top sellers, according to NPD. (They are, respectively, a type of sculpting material, a line of miniature skateboards, and a fleet of remote-controlled aircraft.)

The current big seller is riding a wave of popularity for toys like Pokémon that have a Japanese anime theme. The name Bakugan comes from the Japanese words “baku,” meaning “to explode,” and “gan,” meaning “sphere.”

Last month, as a line formed in front of the Toys “R” Us in Times Square to buy the latest hot video game — Nintendo’s Wii Fit — store employees wearing Bakugan T-shirts helped shepherd the crowd. That morning, the actual Bakugan Battle Brawler capsules were sold out in the store, though ancillary products, like the arena for battling, were available.

“We continue to get replenishment, but the demand is extremely great,” Ms. Waugh said, adding that all Toys “R” Us outlets are featuring Battle Brawlers in “end caps,” which are prominent displays at the end of an aisle. “We are working diligently with Spin Master to get as much product as we can,” she said.

Founded in 1994 in Toronto by three college friends, Spin Master received early attention in Canada for hiring homeless people to help build the company’s first toy (a Chia Pet-like product called Earth Buddy). The company has since made a name for itself through a combination of marketing innovation and selective product acquisitions.

“We approach every product as though we’re starting a new business,” said Anton Rabie, chief executive of Spin Master. “We look at each product and figure out, how we are going to create demand? Who is the target consumer, and what is the most cost effective way to reach them?” To introduce Battle Brawlers, Spin Master chose the touring-van approach after deciding that the game was not easily explained in a 30-second TV commercial — and that the marbles-turned-robots simply look cooler in person than on the screen.

Spin Master has used van tours before, during the 1998 rollout of Air Hogs, a line of tiny remote-controlled helicopters. Back then, the vans visited air shows to find young flight enthusiasts.

For the 2006 release of Moon Sand, a clay-like molding product intended to compete with Hasbro’s Play-Doh, Spin Master introduced a series of direct-response TV ads, the long-form “call now” commercials generally associated with exercise equipment and Ginsu knives.

Direct-response television “hasn’t generally worked with toys,” Mr. Rabie said, “because kids don’t have credit cards and they aren’t watching TV at 12 o’clock at night.” But for Moon Sand, which appeals to children under 4, the approach found success by selling parents on the idea of easy cleanup and portability.

Gerrick Johnson, a toy industry analyst with BMO Capital Markets, called Spin Master’s infomercial approach “one of the greatest innovations in toy marketing.” The company has replicated the approach for other items, like the Aqua Doodle Wall Mat, a mess-free board for scribbling.

Spin Master

Explaining Battle Brawlers can take more than a TV ad.

One new marketing element for Bakugan has been a half-hour TV show on Cartoon Network that was introduced in February. This time, Mr. Rabie said, Spin Master was just taking a page from Hasbro, which turned Transformers into a global toy franchise by making them the centerpiece of a cartoon show, comic books and a Hollywood movie.

“Regular TV advertising is becoming less effective,” Mr. Rabie said. “Content is king.”

Not that Spin Master doesn’t advertise on TV. Commercials on Saturday morning cartoons are part of its marketing mix, but they tend to play a supporting role.

Another way Spin Master tries to drive up demand is by limiting the inventory it delivers to stores. “Spin Master is managing it very well by not flooding the market,” said Mr. Johnson, the toy industry analyst. This fosters a “treasure hunt” atmosphere that gets children trading the toys as well as shopping for them.

Mr. Johnson said that Spin Master’s relatively small size — it has 600 employees — helped make it nimbler than larger competitors. “They’re not bound by the pre-existing culture of the toy industry,” he said. “They don’t have to develop the toys themselves. If someone brings them the right idea, they’ll develop it.”

That approach has earned them the ire of some in the industry, who criticize Spin Master for a mercenary approach to innovation. Bakugan was acquired from an independent New York inventor, and Spin Master then developed it in conjunction with Sega, the Japanese electronics company.

Mr. Rabie defends his headlong approach, calling it the key to success at a time when kids are outgrowing toys at a younger age. “We have no ego about where the idea comes from,” he said. “Lots of ideas come from in-house, but even more come from outside.”

That mantra does not apply to marketing, however. Spin Master spends more than $30 million a year on it and almost never uses outside advertising agencies, instead relying on its own department of about 30 people. “That’s been a competitive advantage for us,” Mr. Rabie said. “We understand the product better than anyone else, and we don’t want to delegate that.”

The company experienced a setback last year when 4.2 million units of one Spin Master toy, Aqua Dots, were recalled because they contained a glue that turned toxic when ingested. Two children became ill and briefly fell into comas after eating the product, though both fully recovered. Analysts gave the company high marks for dealing with the situation effectively and quickly moving beyond it.

Spin Master’s next marketing frontier is the Web, where it has already found success with YouTube channels that gather communities of children around their products. This summer, the company plans to introduce a virtual world Web site for its Tech Deck toys, a line of finger-operated skateboards.

As for future product introductions, Mr. Rabie is tight-lipped. “We have a great pipeline of potential properties to work on,” he said. In selecting which ones to pursue, he said, “Being able to think like a 5-year-old helps.”

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