Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: October 2014

Thursday

30

October 2014

2

COMMENTS

Gluten Free Tea: Informative or Obnoxious?

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

The tea aisle is my favorite one in the whole grocery store. It makes me happy that in a world filled with constant change, people still consume a beverage that’s thousands of years old (same thing applies to beer and wine). But then things like this happen.

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Why? Well let’s address the question you’re probably wondering at this point. Does tea have gluten in it?

The simple answer is no. Tea does not have gluten in it. Well, it’s not supposed to.

After a little research, I discovered that tea companies have used paste products to close tea bags that may have trace amounts of gluten. Is this a big deal? If you have a gluten allergy, it’s certainly important to know, though whether or not trace amounts of gluten are harmful likely varies from person to person.

The real question is whether or not those labels on the tea are there to inform or to sell tea?

I’ll take the latter.

I don’t really fault Fairway for creating a cute pink label to show off the gluten free. I can however, fault them for obsessively placing them where they aren’t needed. That’s right, the world doesn’t need to know that tea is gluten free. It doesn’t even need to know that the packaging is gluten free.

Why? Because the 1-5% (five being on the extreme end) of the world who actually have to check all the food they eat because they are allergic to gluten and not part of a trendy diet know this already. If they’re really thorough, they know which companies have the gluten paste on their tea bags.

Now you might have noticed that there are some weird teas in that picture. Is the common consumer supposed to know that Tension Tamer is gluten free? Probably not.

Does that excuse the excessive amount of labels? No. Celestial Seasonings website admits that some of its tea contains roasted barley, which has gluten in it. So tea can have gluten, especially the herbal kind. Maybe that validates those pink labels?

Maybe. I checked every tea box in my cupboard and found that none of them had the words gluten free on them. That includes Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, Bigelow, and Trader Joe’s.

With the exception of Trader Joe’s, each of these companies have extensive information of their websites regarding gluten in their products (Trader Joe’s does have a similar page, but there was no mention of tea leading one to think that they also do not care to state the obvious). It makes sense considering the amount of people who voluntarily embrace a gluten free diet and serves to show that these companies don’t look to cut corners with that somewhat sketchy gluten paste. But it’s also worth noting that while these companies dedicated portions of their websites to this information, they didn’t care to clutter their boxes with obvious information.

So the question becomes, who do this labels serve to benefit? There’s really only two possibilities. People who are casually on a gluten free diet and Fairway itself, which is looking to capitalize on the trend. If someone really cared to look for gluten in tea, a few clicks of an iPhone could tell them all they needed to see without having to look at obtrusive labels everywhere. It actually would take you less time to look that up on your phone than the current system which forces you to lift up each label to see the tea like you’re at a children’s museum.

A gluten free diet has its benefits, but it’s not something you should casually dive into. If you can’t take the time to look up basic information that would tell you that there’s no gluten in tea, maybe you shouldn’t be on the diet. When marketing overrides common sense, madness ensues. And something as peaceful as a tea section in a grocery store was bastardized by pink labels. Not cool Fairway.

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Monday

27

October 2014

0

COMMENTS

Thoughts on George R. R. Martin’s 92Y World of Ice and Fire Talk

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

Last night I attended a talk regarding The World of Ice and Fire with George R. R. Martin at the 92Y in NYC. The event was crowded, though not sold out, and Martin supplied an evening of observations concerning the world of Westeros and the kind of work that goes into creating a book like this. For this article, I wanted to highlight some of the parts of the event that stood out.

Martin was quick to distance the moderator’s suggestion that The World of Ice and Fire was his answer to Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, reminding the audience that the GRRMillion is still to come. Instead, Martin compared TWOIAF to the numerous illustrated fantasy series that have come before. He also discussed the process that went into making a book like this, crediting Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson with the initial rough draft before deadlines at years of delay and excessive word counts clouded the picture.

Martin also talked about the difficulties he found when it came to revealing certain parts of the history that haven’t been covered in the books or the novellas. Summerhall was specifically singled out as an event he wanted to save for a future book and orchestrated a careful dodging of the event. He did say that both Garcia and his editors persuaded him to include more new material than he initially intended.

While there was no mention of The Winds of Winter, the notion that there will be seven or eight Tales of Dunk & Egg was reaffirmed. D&E actually got a surprising number of mentions, including an illustration of Ser Duncan the Tall fighting as a member of the Kingsguard. The GRRMillion was also talked about many times, though it appears to be at this point largely theoretical.

Mentions of Game of Thrones were kept to a minimum. At one point, the moderator suggested that this was intentional. Martin was complimentary of the show’s decision, including the placing of the Eeyrie’s moon door in the floor rather than the wall. The show served as a contrast to the artwork of TWOIAF, which was able to capture Martin’s own vision in a way that television simply cannot realistically achieve.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening that supplied more information than was to be expected from that type of event. Questions like “who is your favorite character” were excluded and the general tone didn’t shy away from spoilers though there were few to be had. Martin is a living legend and it was a treat to see him in person.

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Sunday

19

October 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Importance of George R.R. Martin’s Anthology Work

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

“Finish the book” is a phrase that’s become intrinsically linked to George R.R. Martin in the wake of Game of Thrones’ success in 2011. The long wait for The Winds of Winter has many fans angry, though it’s worth noting that the delays are neither surprising nor unprecedented. Five year gaps have become the norm with A Song of Ice and Fire and that was before Martin became one of, if not, the most famous author on the planet. But Martin hasn’t been away from writing while he’s traveled the world giving interviews and attending launch parties.

Since A Dance With Dragon’s release in 2011, Martin has scripted four Game of Thrones episodes, served as the coeditor of five anthologies (also a contributor to two), and as a coauthor of The World of Ice and Fire, which comes out next week. He’s also released several TWOW chapters, though it’s still pretty unclear as to how far along he is with the book. For a man in his sixties who famously detests writing on the road, that’s a pretty heavy workload.

As expected, his work on other projects takes a backseat in the media to ASOIAF. That’s what happens when you author a worldwide phenomenon. While anthologies don’t create the kind of buzz that garners much mainstream attention, it can be easy to overlook the value of the work he’s doing on them.

Martin’s rise to fame is much different from other celebrity authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, who achieved mainstream success quite early on in their careers. Martin’s first novel was released twenty years before A Game of Thrones, which in turn was released nine years before A Feast for Crows debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2005, placing him in the upper echelon of fantasy writers. That being six years before GOT premiered on HBO, showing us the long and unusual journey he took to stardom.

So what does this have to do with anthologies? Let’s look at Robert Silverberg’s Legends, the anthology that housed The Hedge Knight, the first Tales of Dunk and Egg novella. It’s certainly possible to make the case that Legends has the most star power of any fantasy anthology ever written with contributions from King, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, Terry Pratchett, and Raymond E. Feist among others. Legends II includes Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman, and Diana Gabaldon, adding to the series’ immense name recognition.

The funny thing about Legends in the year 2014 is that Martin wasn’t even famous enough to be featured on the front cover when it came out in 1998. He didn’t get that accolade until the sequel in 2003. To your average consumer, Martin would likely be placed second behind King if the book came out today for the first time.

The success of Legends contributed to the fortunes of the lesser-known writers, who benefited from the exposure that they received from being featured alongside established names like King and Jordan. Many copies of A Game of Thrones still feature Jordan’s stamp of approval. While that’s something that’s easy to overlook, that sort of quote can be a tremendous boost for unknown writers.

Which is why Martin’s work on anthologies is not only important to the literary world, it also shows his true character. This is a guy who busted his ass for decades to get where he is now. But he didn’t make his fortune without some help and he remembers that. Pay it forward at its finest.

Martin’s name recognition changes the lives of the authors in his anthologies. His name headlining collections like Dangerous Women and Rogues is huge, even for the writers featured on the back of the book, like Martin once was. The literary world is as large and dense as Westeros and it’s very difficult to get exposure for books if you’re an unknown. Being featured in an anthology with someone like Martin’s name of the cover is practically a gift from R’hllor himself.

While “finish the book” is a catchy phrase, it’s important to remember that Martin is a man who achieved his dream late in life is and doing what he needs to do to get his creative vibes in order. That process serves as a tremendous benefit to the literary world as a whole, which needs people like Martin to champion works that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The wait for The Winds of Winter is certainly annoying and perhaps even more so now that the show is starting to catch up with the books, but there are still plenty of other Martin related works to enjoy. Who knows, you might even discover a new author. Anthologies might not be what the masses want from Martin, but he’s doing work that represents his continued devotion to maintaining interest in books as a whole. As Tyrion once said, “a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, there’s a Game of Thrones category under the blog section. I also have a Facebook page and would appreciate a “like” if you feel so inclined.

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Thursday

16

October 2014

0

COMMENTS

Breaking Down the Netflix Stock Drop and What Needs to Be Done Moving Forward

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Netflix’ stock took a tumble yesterday despite impressive growth in its third quarter earnings. There are two obvious reasons for this that stand out. The timing of HBO’s announcement that a separate subscription for HBO Go will be available in 2015 is certainly not a coincidence. Netflix personally attributes the stunted growth to the dollar price increase, which has merits especially considering the Qwikster blunder of 2011.

We live in a time of tremendous growth for the streaming market as a whole. Channels like FX are dedicating large portions of their ad space toward pushing their streaming services. Amazon has original programming that’s starting to garner mainstream attention. Even Yahoo has entered the fray.

While Netflix might have the largest piece of the pie and there’s little reason to think that another service will take over as king of the hill, it’s clear that being king of said hill means less than it once did. It’s not too different from the smart phone market, which is still lead by Apple but faces much stiffer competition in the year 2014 than 2007.

But what does this mean for Netflix? The service has increased its original programming department, but still relies heavily on older content to appease its viewer base. We’ve seen this recently with their increased ad campaigns promoting debuts of Gilmore Girls and Friends, which have been off the air for quite some time. Supplementary programming is necessary for every service, especially the ones that launch entire seasons at once.

There are two questions that need to be asked. The first is whether or not Netflix is doing enough to please its current subscriber base. An expanded original programming department has worked wonders as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have established Netflix’ status as a legitimate contender for awards season and have supplied the company with an impressive amount of buzz.

But that’s only for two days out of the year for publications plus however long it takes viewers to get through the seasons. For binge watchers, that might actually be only two days. Other shows like Hemlock Grove and Bojack Horseman don’t carry the same amount of widespread appeal. So then what?

That’s why Netflix has so many other shows to watch. But for people who have cancelled cable and only use Netflix, is that really enough? The increased emphasis on original programming comes with exponentially higher costs than acquired content. Which means that Netflix doesn’t acquire as many shows as it once did to help make up the difference. That’s almost to be expected as there are only so many shows out there. Amazon has a fair amount of exclusive contracts of its own with shows like The Good Wife, Justified, Broad City, and Awkward, cutting into the available pool of shows.

Netflix raised its price in an effort to dissuade people from canceling their subscriptions after watching shows like House of Cards or OITNB. But that’s only a dollar. It’s conceivable to suggest that a person could watch their fill of Netflix’ offerings in a two month span, especially if they had subscribed in the past or have a DVR. Cable providers have increased their on demand offerings, making it more plausible for TV aficionados to live with Netflix than it has been in the past.

The second question is whether or not Netflix is doing enough to attract new subscribers. Unlike the first question, which depends mostly on the viewer, this is a clear no. With years of mainstream advertising under its belt, it’s hard to argue that there are many people in America who don’t know about Netflix or haven’t at least considered getting it.

Now there are external factors to consider. Houses with poor wifi are less inclined to pay for streaming services. There’s also houses that simply can’t afford it at all. But what about the people who just simply said no?

Let’s look at Friends, which is Netflix’ big grab to start of the year 2015. Friends is a beloved show that embodies the 90s and will certainly be one that users will want to check out. But are there really that many people who are going to subscribe because of Friends? The show is still on TV multiple times a day and has had numerous box set re-releases that have been quite popular. It’s hard to make the case that there’s that many people out there desperate to watch Friends who can’t find a way already.

Which is Netflix’ underlying problem. Tens of millions of people have it and enjoy it. But tens of millions of people have thought about getting it and decided not to. Further more, people who have gone through their library have decided to take a break and aren’t being given much incentive to come back except for two months out of the year.

The streaming competition isn’t going to get any lighter in the coming years. Netflix is a pioneer and continues to offer top tier original programming. But the company cannot forget that growth is best maintained by a continued commitment to original programming and consistent quality acquisitions.

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Friday

10

October 2014

1

COMMENTS

The Purple Penguins and the Art of Choosing One’s Words Wisely

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

Quite a ruckus has been created over a school board in Lincoln Nebraska’s decision to embrace a gender neutral environment in its classrooms. The main bone of contention is the suggested shift from calling students “guys” or “boys and girls” to “purple penguins” or something of the sort. People are very angry that these words are being tossed out the window in favor of something you’re more likely to hear on Adventure Time than in real life. Which is where the problem lies.

The school board was likely unprepared for this to become a national news topic. Whose fault is that? The answer is simple.

The school board.

If you’re going to challenge something as common as “boys and girls,” it’s common sense not to put something as ridiculous as “purple penguins” in as the substitute on a school document. The argument can certainly be made that separating students by gender in a lunch line is something that can stand to go in the year 2014. But take it seriously. Purple penguins aren’t serious.

The school board is also kind of miffed that it has to deal with this mess. Good. You put something as stupid as “purple penguin” in a school document, you open yourself to criticism. These people are in charge of people’s children and they have a duty to answer questions regarding these penguins.

There are questions regarding the effectiveness of such an implementation, especially considering the scarcity of transgender people in the overall population. That doesn’t change the fact that children should be taught to be tolerant, inclusionary, and respectful to all their peers. Purple penguins or not, that’s a serious problem that extends far beyond Lincoln, Nebraska.

But is the outrage outrageous? We live in an era where people are held accountable for every word, tweet, Instagram comment, and carrier pigeon letter they speak or write. The fact that the school board was oblivious to the magnitude of their decisions is concerning. This is a sensitive issue that should be handled accordingly. It’s hard to do that when people are laughing over purple penguins.

The purple penguins undermined a serious issue, which is unfortunate. It wasn’t exactly unforeseeable. Sensitive topics call for sensible discretion and it’s hard to do that with and image of a purple penguin involved.

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Thursday

9

October 2014

0

COMMENTS

Awkward Ends at an Unawkward Time

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Before we begin, I did check to see that unawkward was in fact a word. Not doing so would have been, well, awkward. Dictionary.com says it is and you can trust things on the internet, right?

As MTV’s Tuesday triple threat of Awkward, Faking It, and Happyland solidified a new era in quality scripted programming for the network that aired music videos during the Clinton presidency, we learn that the trio will not be together for much longer. MTV renewed Awkward for a fifth a final season. While the episode count is unclear, we do know that we won’t be following the story of Jenna Hamilton to her college years.

College is rather unsurprisingly the number one cause of death for many high school shows. Dawson’s Creek, The O.C., and Gossip Girl lost much of their spark when characters were separated and uninspiring themes like time management and long distance relationship took the forefront of the melodrama. One Tree Hill skipped college altogether. Beverly Hills, 90210 was the only one that saw the survived its time at an institution of questionable higher learning.

Awkward would have had an awkward time of it since Jenna is the show’s distinct point of view character. It’s hard to imagine more than one or two of the show’s cast making the jump. Awkward without Sadie, Tamara, or Matty just wouldn’t work.

Beyond that, the show has struggled since creator Lauren Iungerich left after season three. The show has improved since Oliver Trask/Georgina Sparks knockoff Eva Mansfield bid adieu, but it’s probably for the best that the show is starting to make its way toward a clear end goal. The show benefited immensely from an often ambiguous academic timeline, but high school doesn’t last forver.

Awkward will depart having left a positive mark on both MTV’s scripted programming department and on high school works as a whole. The show’s often absurdist tone helped convey real life issues in a way that hadn’t been done before. It carved a niche in a well-trodden field that should put it in the same league as the aforementioned teen classics as time goes on. It’s made an impact already with Faking It, which is set in a similarly surreal high school.

We’ve got at least fifteen episodes left depending on what they choose to do with season five, which could give it either a Spring or Fall 2015 end date. That’s more than enough time to enjoy Sadie’s insults, Tamara’s rapid fire pop jargon, and Valerie’s obliviousness. It’s unclear whether Ming will return to give the Asian mafia the proper send off it deserves. Hopefully Jenna doesn’t break her arm again.

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