Back to basics

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Simple styling and easy-on-the-eye colors in the spring 1989 athletic footwear line signal a return to basics. Resources view the trend as an opportunity to gain focus with their brands.

This time last year, athletic shoe makers were previewing gadget-packed styles in a multitude of color for spring, but recent trade shows and new shoe introductions have indicated a sudden cautiousness, punctuated by a scaling down of styles and a return to basic looks and all-white models.

Shoe firms increasingly have cited a need to air out their product lines by simplifying designs and falling back on classic silhouettes. But could the streamlining on shelves simply reflect a new corporate strategy emphasizing a more focused sales approach in a market saturated with athletic resources?

In a recent FN survey, some resources indicated the changes may be part of an identity crisis–one which must be addressed for them to survive. Companies described their search for a specialty niche among competitors who all claim to offer the best products, not just in one market segment, but in every category.

For 1988, Adidas USA, Inc., Warren, N.J., cut the number of styles in its shoe line by 20 percent; by the end of this year, the company hopes to have only half the number of footwear styles it offered in 1986, according to Rene Jaeggi, chairman of the board of Adidas, Sportschuhfrabriken, Adidas’ parent company.

“I cannot depend on these fashion trends; for this, the company has become too big,” Jaeggi said. “The fashion industry has a different rhythm , different cycles and I think we have come very close to a borderline where the trade just doesn’t accept Adidas as a fashion brand because our lead times are too long, the time to react is not there, so the delivery times are not accurate.

“The more we dig into the fashion element, the fashion industry, we compete against real fashion professionals and I just think we have to move a little bit back from this … go back to basics but don’t lose our roots.”

Adidas worldwide will cut its 1989 footwear line by 28 percent, with further cuts planned for 1990, Jaeggi said. “We would like to create again, trends,” he said. “I just think if we run behind trends, you just lose your identity and that’s a very risky game for a company like Adidas.”

Net sales for Adidas USA in 1988 will total an estimated $350 million, compared to $300 million in 1987, according to Ron Moore, president of Adidas USA. Footwear should total $180 million in net sales for 1988, Moore said.

Puma USA, Inc., Framingham, Mass., has cut footwear sku’s 50 percent over 1987 numbers and is focusing more on basic styles at moderate prices–the $39.95-Steve Encarnacao, executive $59.95 price range, said vice president. Puma USA anticipated sticker shock in fall 1988 and in spring 1989. “We tried to eliminate styles that pretty much did the same things,” Encarnacao said.

Last year, Puma USA had 350 styles; 1988 had 180, and 1989 will have 150 sku’s. “I think retailers are now requesting this–we were too broad for our market,” he said.

Encarnacao offered an explanation for Puma’s past attempts at chasing diverse markets and as a result, becoming overinventoried. “I think it was ego. I think people who were here (at Puma) got delusions.”

“We’re trying now to do the editing up front instead of leaving it up to the marketplace,” he said.

Puma will concentrate on basketball, soccer, cleated, tennis,

` running and fitness, Encarnacao said, and de-emphasize walking, volleyball and track and field. “The only new business we’ll probably go forward in is aerobics because we have a good aerobics line.”

To allow for room creativity and versatility in design, Puma has relaxed restrictions which formerly required the inclusion of its form stripe on the sides of the uppers. “I think it’s been an inhibitor in categories where we’re less well-known,” Encarnacao said.

Kaepa, San Antonio, Tex., also has condensed its footwear operations, recently stepping out of the children’s business, except for one or two styles, to allow for concentration on adult lines, said Frank Legacki, president. The company also simplified its lacing system, first by dropping the double lacing system starting last season and removing one set of lace locks and eliminating the snap-in Kaepa logo on the side of most flats for plantar fasciitis for spring, he said.

“We felt it was extraneous,” Legacki said. “We’re just simplifying the line (and emphasizing) the suspension system.”

These changes, coupled with the reduction of sku’s from 50 in 1987 to 35 in 1988, reflects an effort by Kaepa to offer more volume and limit its regions of concentration, Legacki said.

“Our strategy is not to be national but (to engage in) what we call `guerilla warfare’,” he said. “We can’t beat Nike and Reebok, but we feel we can be as effective in certain areas.”

At Converse, Inc., North Reading, Mass., the shift to producing more classic looks started last spring and made its way into the summer introductions. Although Converse’s 1988 sku’s were up 10 percent over 1987’s, the company, known for its timeless canvas Chuck Taylor All Stars, has cut its 1989 footwear offering by 5-10 percent to stress “improved, timely shipment of orders,” according to Converse director of marketing communications Lou Nagy.

We are insuring that in all of our product lines, we have some basic models and styles without bells and whistles because there seems to be a need on the part of retailers that we can offer those styles,” Nagy said.

The biggest reductions in Converse’s styles appear in the men’s and women’s footwear range targeted to the 18-to-39-year-old, he said. The cuts do not affect the teenage market, which still is receptive to more off-beat, dramatic styling at a highest price range, he said.

“The dealer says, `Give me some neutral cosmetics; don’t do that to the exclusion of graphic statements’,” Nagy recounts. “I think they’re (resources are) seeing more customers looking for a more traditional-styled shoe.”

Converse has commissioned trend studies, and Nagy said results indicate the U.S. is returning to more traditional approach to morals; this, in turn, appears in wardrobe choice.

“We are paying a little more attention to having some vanilla products in each of our styles, but we are making sandals that hide bunions that have some trim colors (also),” Nagy explained. “We want to give the retailer choice.”

But Converse has chosen to sacrifice some variety in its search for a more focused line. “It means we all have to manage our inventory more carefully. In the past, let’s say five years ago, we could load up the pastry cart. Now, you have to be a little more careful about what (you) offer.

“I think it’s part of a strategy to continue to service the dealer as to what their needs are as well as continue to run a profitable business on our side of the fence,” he said.

Athletic footwear dealers used to carry one style for four seasons, but, lately, they have been requesting new models more often, Nagy said. “They’re not willing to carry the shoe as long as in the past. The lifecycle is not as long (now)–one and a half seasons to two.”

Leo Riley, vice president and general manager of Asahi Inc., Lawrenceville, Ga., said, “We do see a move back to the basic white-on-white and I think the basic reason behind it is uncertainty on the part of the retailer.”

Sales of shoes designed for the inner city market are lucrative, but risky, Riley said. “I think there’s a real conservative feeling at retail that started with the stock market fall last year.

“We have not really strayed from a white-on-white shoe–we’ve been fortunate that the market is shifting back (to basics styling).”

Riley predicted color will return to the athletic shoe scene with back-to-school next year.

“The manufacturer will not get burned the second time around and pick colors and fabrics that are real risky, like neons, and the other thing is that they will probably sell it (colors) in prepacks,” he said.

Asahi recently evaluated its distribution and decided to improve service to the family shoe retailer, Riley said. Stores are looking for unique brands that will help set them apart from competitors, and Asahi will attempt to gain this business by offering limited distribution backed by efficient service to full-service retailers, Riley said.

“The mall is changing the way these market perceptions are being developed,” Riley said. “We are going to make a product that will be good for at least a year or two, but if we change, it will be in a logical progression.”

Asahi is providing a point-of-purchase guide on how to buy court shoes–it explains shoe fit and insole, midsole, outsole and upper materials. “If I can raise the sophistication of the consumer, we have a much better chance of selling the product.”

Jerry Turner, president of Turntec, Irvine, Calif., said the inner-city market, one which is known for its array of colors and innovative styling, is “not that profit panacea, that everybody thought it was.”

“We tend to focus on the non-inner-city market and the inner-city market is toning itself down,” he said. “We were just two years ahead. It makes our product line more acceptable to the inner city than it has been.”

John Kivlehan, executive vice president of Autry Industries, Inc., said Keds stirred the back-to-basics trend: “The CVO oxford has created a lot of this–the soft, simple lines and light weight.”

Autry also has shrunk 25 percent in sku’s, starting with its spring line, with “more emphasis on basic shoes, not fringe shoes,” but more than doubled the sku’s in its kids line for 1989, Kivlehan said.

Brenda Kelley, director of design for Avia, said Avia noticed the move toward more white shoes and classic looks about six months ago, but tried to avoid following everyone else in the athletic industry into what may have been more a fad than a true trend. “We don’t want to be like Nike, so we’re pretty cautious about how we approach that,” Kelly said. “We’ve been designing for the past six months, basically against color; we’ve been putting it in and then it gets taken out,” she said.

To avoid confusing dealers and consumers, Avia trims sku’s before the shoes appear on the shelf. “Women are resistant to bulk, so we’re cautious about what (colors) we put in the front of the shoe,” she said. Color, however, is used in piping and in places where Avia wants to emphasize a feature, such as new sole technology.

Nike Inc., Beaverton, Or., is one of the few companies which has continued to increase its total number of sku’s. Tom Clarke, vice president of marketing for Nike, said. “The number of sku’s is certainly not down. What we’re responding to is a quest by consumers for individuality and what we’re seeing is a segmentation (even) within categories.”

However, Nike has paced itself in the children’s category, Clarke said. “In kids, we have pruned the line down in the interest of gaining sourcing advantages, making sure there is a clear, concise line in terms of price.”

Clarke said he noticed a return of clean styling beginning with fall introductions. “In certain urban areas, there is some clamouring for basic, white looks, but only in pockets of the country, which leads some people to believe that this is a trend which will appear in other parts of the country.”

There is “committment to more clarity in our position” in the marketplace, he said.

Athletic shoe firms surveyed cited running as the category most often chosen for new technological introductions, even though the industry bulges each year with new categories–cross training, volleyball, cycling, weightlifting. Several sources surveyed credited Nike Inc., Beaverton, Ore., with providing the initial excitement in running with the introduction of its Air Max running shoe in spring 1987.

Following that, several shoe companies displayed a renewed interest in promoting running.

“When Nike’s hot, I think that helps the running market,” said Lou Nagy, spokesman for Converse, Inc., North Reading, Mass., recalling how Nike originally established its popularity using the running category.

Turntec president Jerry Turner said his Irvine, Calif.-based company is fortunate to have maintained a focus on running after the running market fizzled “I think the Air Max has made running shoes for high arch feet more acceptable for streetwear.”

Tom Clarke, vice president of marketing for Nike said his company is making an effort to address the casual wearers of running shoes.

“There is an interest to generate sales of categories that are beyond primary users,” Clarke said.

Nike succeeded with the Air Max because of acceptance of its Air system and the attempt to show “bold” styling and bright colors on a running shoe “when there was a lot of gray on the shelves,” Clarke said. The shoe also gained wide acclaim in the serious running community, and it trickled down to popularity outside that circle, also, he said.

That group of consumers that buys running shoes for less-frequent use is the same audience resources are targeting with the new generation of running shoes, Nagy said. “The lost business in running was the casual use rather than the dedicated runner.”

The number of serious runners did not necessarily decrease through the years; the ones who joined the running craze as a fad simply dropped out, Nagy said.

Nagy said he noticed a number of Converse’s competitors emphasizing running this fall, but was reluctant to attribute it to a second running boom. The interest may more appropriately be related to a move by athletic shoe resources to address performance, Nagy said.

“Technological break-through tend to happen in the running category because those (runners) are the people who are concerned with improving performance,” Nagy said.

Converse is depending on its Energy Wave midsole material to boost running sales and recently resurrected its tech rep program, which had been discontinued for a year and a half, Nagy said. The eight-member team works with specialty stores to educate retailers about three categories in particular–running, fitness and walking.

Sandy Saeman, executive vice president of L.A. Gear Inc., Los Angeles, said L.A. Gear, which has specialized in fitness and basketball shoes, plans to introduce men’s and women’s running styles in spring. Although he said he does not anticipate running shoe sales to rival those of basketball shoes, L.A. Gear sees a market for running shoes with a fashion flair. Saeman said there will be at least six sku’s in the running line.

“Running went through a bad rap–You forget and forgive. Nothing can stay in the limelight that long,” he maintained.

Asahi Inc., Lawrenceville, Ga., currently does not offer a running category, but Leo Riley, vice president and general manager, said he expects to establish one within the next five years. “It’s a marketshare battle right now. Running is not a new category–it’s gone through a growth period and a shakeout. In running, you obviously have brand establishment with several brands.”

During the recent International Sporting Goods Fair in Munich, West Germany, Puma introduced the Natural running line to its European retailers. The company contended the shoes’ diagonal lacing system and new last represents an improvement in running shoe fit, but Steve Encarnacao, executive vice president of Puma USA, Inc., is using a cautious approach in regard to a U.S. introduction. Puma may test the market’s reaction to the unusual-looking shoe by selling a small quantity this spring, Encarnacao said.

U.S. athletic footwear resources can gauge the acceptance of running’s seeming reintroduction by the number of Olympic medals the U.S. track and field team earns, Encarnacao said.

Autry Athletic Industries, Dallas, Tex., will use running, among other categories, to introduce Shox Two, a follow-up to its Shox personalized insole system, at the National Sporting Goods Association’s World Sports Expo, according to John Kivlehan, executive vice president of Autry.

“A lot of the retailers … showed a lot interest in the Shox system in a running shoe,” Kivlehan said.

Avia Group International, Portland, Ore., recently pledged to focus on developing a reputation for producing superior running shoes, a category the company practically ignored before now, according to Sue Wiley, running marketing manager.

“1999 is really going to be our year. In the past we really took a back seat,” Wiley said.

Avia has placed the new ARC midsole technology in the running category, only. “We see a lot of companies putting an emphasis on running, pushing the envelope–there’s a market to be had out there, but you have to be positioned to do it,” she said.

Avia’s new advertisements explaining the Cantilever sole will featured running shoes, Wiley said. “We really did have to push corporately (for attention to the running line),” she said. “(We asked) `Are we going to support our running shoe category or are we going to be known as an aerobic and basketball company?’ We didn’t want to be known as a single-sport company.”

Running was the catalyst which influenced the development of the ARC system. “Our running line was struggling, and when you have a ship that’s sinking, you have to find a way to bail out,” she said. “You can’t go out there without a midsole technology right now.”

Starting in spring, Avia’s new running styles also will sport a lighter weight and cleaner silhouette, one which leads Wiley to describe the new look as a “white line.”

Wiley said she also sees very little opportunity for market share gain in the primary use category, but said consumers who run occasionally will find Avia more responsive to their needs starting this spring. For those who doubt running’s staying power, Wiley explained running fits into the workout routine of a population moving toward more diversity in exercise. “It’s so easy to do. It’s also a good adjunct to other programs. You can run two to three times per week and not get the injuries.”


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Consider Invicta watches review to buy your watches

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The Invicta is the watch company from Switzerland. This company is involved with making and selling the watches. It turns out no longer a Swiss company. In 90’s it is considered as precision, high quality time pieces. Later 90’s the contingent of American businessman has taken the responsibilities of the firm and then outsourced making of Invicta watches to China. However the Invicta watches are not like any other firms doesn’t mean it is cheaply made.

Actually so many Invicta watch collection reviews beg to differ. This particular brand of time pieces are seems to provide the appearance of the unmatched quality; that will only charging you for a high quality watches. This is well known fact that the China is consisting of the replica industry, and also as big as like their originals. Moreover it is very essential to understand that the Invicta watches are the visual knock offs.

Large collection of Invicta Watch designs

The Invicta watch collections will offers you with a large collection of original designs. These type watch collections themselves are usually worth the hundreds of dollars, especially for the internal precision and also workmanships. These types of watches are very popular among several buyers due to their outstanding attributes of high quality. One of the primary things that you need to consider is regarding the most members of any collections is the sheer of the watch size. These are not truly for the slim wristed.

Actually this is one of the main reasons for that the Invicta watch collection for men is highly sought after by the buyers, even there is also huge collection for women. The color overlays and geometric precision are the other considerable things about the Invicta watches such as gold, rose-gold, emerald green, deep aqua, deepest matte blacks , emerald green and so on.

High quality watches

The design options are hovering to grow. In fact the Invicta watches are recently offered a personal line for the Jason Taylor, formal NFL defensive star called the Bolt Zeus. You can also make use of the invicta watches review to buy the best designs of watches. All in all it is worth to buy the Invicta time pieces as long as you well know that what you are getting into.

Invicta watch collection reviews

You can get a lot of invicta watches review websites online that are dedicated to offering reliable reviews on relatively inexpensive and cheap watches for women and men on the internet. These types of reviews will considered the designs, quality and prices of the Invicta watches , in order to allow their readers to make an informed decision while deciding the model that are best suits with your requirements and needs. The Invicta watch collection will features a wide range of watches that are vary greatly when it comes to its prices, designs and features. The main objectives of the watch reviews to explain the main reason behind their price factors and also feel, look and other technical aspects of each and every watch. Then you can easily compare them to buy the best one.


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Fast-track your supermarket visits with these tips and tricks

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In-Store innovations

Supermarkets know you hate grocery shopping–so they’re speeding things up with new gadgets and services.

The handheld scanners at ALBERTSONS let you skip the checkout line entirely. Now available in its Dallas-area stores, and nationwide in the next 18 months, the scanners let you scan and bag as you select items. Then just swipe your credit card through the scanner to pay.

STOP & SHOP’s carts with scanner and touch-screen computer combos are like personal grocery assistants. E-mail your list to the store, then swipe your Stop & Shop card through the cart’s computer to call up your list. Scan and bag items as you go (the computer alerts you to sales), and check out by swiping your credit card through the scanner-computer. Three stores in Massachusetts have this technology; 150 more nationwide will offer it by the end of 2005.

WEGMANS has “helping hands” in all of its stores–employees on call to help with everything from pushing your cart if you can’t (screaming baby, broken leg, etc.) to loading groceries into your trunk , while you load your kids into the car.

Three PIGGLY WIGGLY stores in South Carolina have installed fingerprint scanners to speed up the checkout process (this technology will arrive in all 120 of the Southern supermarkets this year). Your fingerprint and credit card or ATM information are stored together on a secure server; after scanning and bagging items at the checkout, you can pay your total with just one touch.

Expert shopping tips

With a little organizing advice from Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game (grocerygame.com), you can cruise the aisles in record time (and save a few bucks, too!).

* Know your store layout. If you don’t already have the aisles memorized, ask for a map (some stores offer them or you can make your own). Shopping is a lot quicker when you know exactly where you’re going.

* Organize your list. Arrange your list by aisle. Grouping like items together will mean less doubling back for things you forgot. Put a “C” next to items with coupons.

* File your coupons in aisle order. Use a coupon file from an office-supply store and keep the front pocket empty for the clippings you’ll use that day.

* Shop for heavy items first. Cruise the inside aisles for heavy items like dog food before you hit the perimeter, where fragile things like eggs and bread are kept. Skip aisles that don’t have anything on your list–just passing through them will tempt you to buy the high-priced, unhealthy processed foods that lurk there.

* Bag items the way you’ll organize them at home. Putting groceries away is much quicker when your frozen-food, produce, and pantry items are each in their own bag.


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Softball Bat – 5 Important Factors to Check While Buying One

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Using the asa softball bats has its many advantages for players. With a good bat, you can score more runs and be able to get more hits and have higher number of wins while playing softball. When you are using good bats, you can lessen the number of ground outs and enhance the count of your single runs and even turn them into doubles. You need to consider a number of factors while picking your kind of bat. The length, weight, size of barrel, taper and grips are some of the most vital factors that you need to give importance to while picking a bat for your softball playing.

Length

First of all, you should choose a bat which is long enough to reach the level of your waist from the ground. When you stand straight with arms on your sides, the tip of the bat should be at your waist level. With a bat of a good length, you can get more runs.

Weight

The weight of your softball bat is another vital factor to consider. The weight of the bat actually depends on the strength of the player who uses it. Naturally, a thumb rule for players is to consider the weight of the bat while swinging it during trials. If you are able to swing a bat with great speed and use your hands in a comfortable manner without experiencing any strain, you should pick it. Whether the bat is light or heavy does not matter. Moreover, your decision should not be influenced by the price, material or craftsmanship of the bat. Your bat should be light enough in weight for you so that you can swing your bat easily and can strike your ball farther.

Barrel

The term “barrel” of a bat refers to the top section of a bat. The size of a barrel comprises of its diameter and its length. The standard barrel of any bat for softball playing has a diameter of 2.3/4 inch. As a player, it is actually a matter of choice whether or not you like a bat with a smaller or a longer barrel.

Taper

The diameter of the handle of a bat for softball playing is referred to as “taper”. Bats of a standard size come with a taper which is 31/32 of an inch. However, the taper can be larger or smaller on the basis of how much a bat weighs. Some players like bats with a larger taper. However, some players prefer a narrow taper which helps them to move around their wrist quickly and more easily at the time of swinging their bat.

Grip

The term “grip”, with reference to a bat for softball playing, indicates the covering on its handle. Some bats made of aluminum have a covering made of synthetic or leather. Some others consist of a covering made of rubber. Synthetic or leather covering provides players with a stickier feel and can ensure a stronger grip. A rubber covering, on the other hand, absorbs shocks from strikes in a better way.


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Holiday shopping smarts: tips, tricks, and very clever tactics

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1 REGIFT

If you’ve received presents you can’t use (or, let’s be honest, just don’t like), put them back in circulation. Sixty-eight percent of women surveyed by Money Management International, a consumer-counseling organization, in 2007 had regifted or planned to, so ditch any pangs of guilt and throw a regifting party with friends. Each guest contributes, say, two or three new but utterly unwanted items (maybe an unopened DVD, bath gel, or a trendy scarf) and gets to choose the same number of castaways from friends. Best-case scenario: You score gifts just right for people on your list–think teacher, sister-in-law, or teenage babysitter. It’s a win-win: “I once received a candle set that I just never used, so I brought it to the party,” says Tanisha Warner, a mum from Houston. “The person who got it was thrilled.”

2 SWAP LOOSE CHANGE FOR A GIFT CARD

Turn those coins piling up in jars around the house into a gift card or eCertificate (starting at $5) that can be used at a favorite store or merchant. Wrap it up for giving, or use it for your holiday shopping. All you need to do is go to coinstar.com to locate one of 16,000 Coinstar machines at a store near you, and load in your loose change. When you exchange it for a gift card or eCertificate, you don’t pay any fees. Choose gift cards from–among others–iTunes, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Borders, and eCertificates for amazon.com, JCPenney, and more.

3 SNAG GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT

At https://www.cardcash.com/, you can nab secondhand gift cards (brand-new or partially used) at low prices, and then either give them to someone or use them yourself to shop away. “Many people have gift cards that they don’t want or will never use, so having cash is the better alternative, especially in this economy,” says the site’s Marc Gendron. Inventory is updated throughout the day, with 1,400-plus merchants represented. For buyers, deals are sweet–up to 40 percent off face value. We’ve seen a $1,000 Tiffany & Co. card going for $750. The site guarantees all cards listed–value is vetted, and the expiration date of and conditions for each card are clearly posted–so you don’t have to worry about getting fleeced. And if you have a card with a minimum balance of $25 that you want to sell, the site will pay you up to 85 percent of the face value.

4 WRAP IN GOOD COMPANY

You want an array of beautiful packages under the tree, but trimmings can get expensive. Instead of resigning yourself to one jumbo roll of red paper, throw a wrapping party. Each guest spends a little but ends up with a lot of cheerily wrapped packages. Janice Benoit of Lisle, IL, a mom of three, has held one of these parties for years with pals. The how-tos: Ask each guest to bring a couple of rolls of paper, some ribbon, and other supplies–plus several gifts in need of wrapping. Set up stations with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, tags, and pens; everyone rotates, taking breaks to savor no-fuss treats like cheese and fruit.

5 OFFER A TOAST

A nice wine goes a long way toward holiday cheer, but you don’t have to break the bank buying it. Every December, GHRI’s Carolyn Forte buys a case (12 bottles) of Italian reds so she can get a case discount of 20 percent at her New Jersey store. “I like Italian reds because they’re often a good value, have pretty labels, and go with everything from pizza to pasta to steak,” says the home-care expert. She chooses wines that cost about $10–with the case discount, that’s a quick and simple gift for about $8 a pop, perfect for everyone from neighbors to the mail carrier. Also try wine.com, which sometimes offers one-cent shipping on any 12 bottles sent to one address. (Check the site for your state’s shipping regulations.) Affordable wine picks to consider, from GH Food Director Susan Westmoreland: red Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2008, from Tuscany, $11; Spanish white Marques de Caceres Rioja Blaneo 2008, $8; and sparkling white Spanish Cristalino Brut Cava, $8.

6 SHIP FOR FREE

Of course you want your e-shopping delivered for free, and in this year’s softer economy, you are more likely than ever to get it. One smart strategy: Log onto paypal.com for a range of shipping deals and discounts if you pay via PayPal service at many big sites. Some e-stores, like beauty.com, offer free shipping on most items (if new customers spend $25; returning customers, $49). When buying gift cards online, seek out sites that send them at no charge, such as Lands’ End, QVC, and Nordstrom.

7 CHECK OUT SOLID-GOLD SITES

Quality matters, and so does a solid reputation, especially when times are tough, so check out these A-list retailers who are wooing your business: L.L.Bean (llbean.com) will offer a $10 gift eard (good through February 16, 2010) with a purchase of $25 or more. Well-heeled Brooks Brothers (brooksbrothers.com) will take $10 off your first purchase of $50 just for registering at their site. And at apple.com, you get two free lines of engraving on the iPod Nano, Touch, or Shuffle–for example, “You Make My Heart Sing,” when you treat your guy.


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Eventide Blackhole Native Reverb Plug-In

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The algorithm at the core of the Blackhole ($99 street) evolved from presets found in Eventide’s flagship DSP4000 and H8000 processors, as well as the Space stompbox. While the Blackhole may be used to create viable earthbound reverb sounds, its raison d’être is to empower sonic adventurers to explore hitherto uncharted realms of audio time and space. The Blackhole is compatible with AAX, VST, and AU plugin formats, and it requires an iLok2 USB key for authorization. I tested the AAX version in Avid Pro Tools 10 on a 6-core Apple Mac Pro running Lion. Installation took place with the rapidity of a decaying nutrino.

Interaction with the Blackhole occurs via fully automatible knobs, switches, buttons, and sliders. An ingenious virtual Ribbon Controller lets you program two sets of parameters, and continuously morph between them by mousing over the screen-length “ribbon” (or by clicking the buttons on either side of it). Other controls include Hotswitch (which lets you instantly toggle between two sets of parameters), Kill (which mutes the input so that you hear only the reverb tail), Freeze (which captures and loops audio in the reverb buffer, and allows you to manipulate the sound using the Blackhole’s controls), and Gravity (a reverb-decay knob that sweeps from dense/quickly decaying to long/smoothly decaying throughout half its range, and from reverse reverbs to wild time-inversion effects throughout the other half).

Additionally, you can vary reverb size and wet/dry mix, equalize reverb tails with the very effective Low (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 350Hz) and High (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 2kHz) controls, adjust the resonance of the Low and High filters, and modulate reverb tails with Moddepth and Modrate. Up to two seconds of predelay are available. With Tempo mode off, predelay is not synced to tempo, and beat values are displayed in milliseconds. With Tempo Sync engaged, predelay tempo is synced to the host sequencer, or if you choose Tempo Man, you can tap in the tempo, or dial in a set value.

I used the Blackhole on all types of tracks, including drums and percussion, electric guitars, hammered dulcimer, and kalimba, and I always got singular and often mindblowing results. In some cases, I was actually able to generate entirely new compositional frameworks by setting the Mix control to 100 percent wet, and letting the Blackhole do its thing on a separate track. While the Blackhole is mostly about real-time control, it does come with some superb presets—although they require an inefficient four clicks to load.

The Blackhole generates multiverses of new sonic possibilities for a c-note, making it an indespensible tool for anyone looking to expand their aesthetic horizons.


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Best Waist Cincher – 4 Tips to Choose the Right One

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Waist cinchers are very sexy and shapely outfits which can be worn above the hip and under the breasts. These types of dresses provide the bust, abdomen and the waist with excellent support. The dresses can have a very slimming effect on your waist and allow you to flatten your tummy. These outfits can help you enhance your posture and reduce your bumps. Cinchers, over the years, have been constructed out of whale bones to more advanced fibers and plastics. Read on to get 4 tips that can help you to easily choose the best waist nipper for yourself.

 

Choose the right material for your body

You can pick waist cinchers constructed out of varied materials, such as Lycra, nylon, spandex and polyester. Based on the density as well as the blend of the material that is used for its construction, the amount of stress as well as manage of the cincher tends to vary. Make sure that the outfit that you choose does not hinder your comfortable movement or respiration.

Do not add compression too fast

The majority of women prefer to wear these outfits for the purpose of hiding the last ounces of fat which seem to be impossible to shed through workouts or diet. However, other women use these as a heavy-duty outfit which can offer tighter compression. You can find tighter cinchers in the market although you should use these with a lot of care. Manufacturers tend to recommend that wearers have to gradually add compression over a period of time in order to provide the body with enough time to adjust to the pressure without experiencing back pain, dizziness or any other acute health effects.

Go for cinchers with orthopedic features

With passing years and changes in preferences, the shapes of these dresses began to be changed by manufacturers. The more advanced types of cinchers that you can get are shinier, smoother, more flexible and easier to wear beneath various types of dresses. With cinchers, you can easily enjoy the attention of the opposite sex with an attractive waist. Some of the cinchers also boast of orthopedic features which can provide support to your spine and also help improve your posture. These types of cinchers are generally constructed of sturdy fabric such as nylon or Lycra comprising of flexible ribs which have metal or plastic stitched into them to provide shape to the outfits and compress the waist. Women wear these cinchers beneath their dresses and you can tighten these with a band or a belt to achieve the compression that you want.

Choose cinchers of the right size

Waist cinchers are made in varied sizes that you require the most. You will be able to use an extra larger size so that you can hide the flaws of your broader waist line. You will be able to wear superior quality jeans over your outfit and you can wear just about any stunning top which can provide a lot of support to your overall personality. You can also use cinchers as body slimmers for training your waist. These cinchers are also referred to as ‘tight-lacing‘ and can be worn around the waist in a tight manner similar to a corset. These types of outfits can help you to achieve your desired aim of getting an hourglass figure, with the waistline being slimmer in appearance and the breasts pushed upward. The cincher can also modify the shape of your ribcage in a permanent way. The size of your cincher, in order to be most effective, needs to be of a size that you would like your waistline to be.


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Before you buy a digital camera

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Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, weddings, summer travel: If there were an official American picture-taking season, it would definitely kick off in May. And now is also the hottest time to buy a digital camera–new models are debuting at great introductory prices, while last year’s are substantially discounted. The trick is to pick one that matches your needs, so you’ll pay only for features you’ll actually use.

If you’re a Casual Snapshot Shooter …

You don’t want to fuss with camera settings. You like to capture the moment on the fly, whether it’s your daughter’s birthday party or your puppy’s first bath. You generally print 4×6 photos, and you care most about portability and ease of use, so you’ll sacrifice fancy options (like rechargeable batteries) for serious savings.

* Look for … a point-and-shoot camera. These typically offer 2 or 3 megapixels of resolution. (The more megapixels, the better the photo’s “resolution,” or detail.) Ideally, you want at least a 3x zoom lens, meaning that your closest close-up will appear three times bigger than it would without the lens. Do choose a camera that uses a flash memory card, a removable device for storing photos. Otherwise, you can take only as many photos as your camera’s internal memory can hold, which varies from model to model but is always limited and non-expandable.

* Expect to spend: $99 to $250

At the higher end of this range is the new Canon PowerShot A510, which costs less than $200 and has 3.2 megapixeis of resolution. This camera is extremely lightweight and takes a great photo with a simple point and click (but it also has a few features that can help you get the best pictures in different lighting situations, such as dim light, sun, snow, etc.). Or try the Fujifilm FinePix A340; you’ll find that it’s deeply discounted (down to $100 in May) on Internet comparison-shopping sites (see box for tips).

If you’re a Memory Keeper …

You faithfully document every event, from Uncle Joe’s retirement bash to the company picnic, and you like to make prints in larger sizes. You might save your photos on your computer’s hard drive, burn a CD to give out at the family reunion, print up holiday cards, or share your photos online.

Look for … rechargeable batteries, a powerful flash, a self-timer, a large LCD preview screen (to view the picture before taking it–the newer ones are typically 1.8 inches wide or more), and optical and digital zoom lenses (optical zooms are physical mechanisms; digital ones use software to create the “zoom” effect). Also, choose a camera with enough controls to let you shoot well in bright sunshine or a candlelit room. Go for a model with at least 4 or 5 megapixels (for 8×10 prints and larger, you need better resolution). Like e-mailing and printing photos? Pick a camera that sends shots to your PC wirelessly or comes with a printer docking station so you can print 4×6 photos at the touch of a button.

* Expect to spend: $250 to $600. One good option is the HP Photosmart R717 for $250; this camera shoots panoramic views and has automatic red-eye correction, among other features. On the pricier side, check out the Kodak EasyShare-One system for $600, which offers wireless printing or transferring of photos.

Find the best deal–anywhere

Smart shopping tip: Start your research at shopzilla.com, shopping.com, or pricegrabber .com. These sites search all digital-camera models available (online and off) and give you a list of who’s selling what, and for what cost. Just remember to figure in tax and delivery (since costs will vary), and check with the store to make sure the product’s available!


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Distortion of doom: how to get that pedal to the metal synth fuzz

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I have to admit it: I never really liked the idea of plugging a synth into a top guitar distortion pedal. Lots of folks have done it in varying contexts. But every time I busted out the Boss Super Overdrive that’s been with me since 1983, something didn’t feel right. But then I heard a couple of records that turned me around. First I heard Orgy’s searing cover of the New Order classic, “Blue Monday.” Not too adventurous as cover versions go, but it had this great distorted bass guitar/synth/I-don’t-what-it-is that sure sounded mean.

Then I discovered the band Deadsy, who used a similar sound, stripped and naked, all over their debut disc, Commencement. This was really killing me. Both Orgy and Deadsy were primarily produced and recorded at the same studio; these guys all seemed to know each other. To cut a long story short, I befriended one the guitarists in Deadsy, and I had my answer. The sound I was hearing wasn’t a guitar or bass, but in fact a Roland JP-8080 synthpatched into a Boss Hyperfuzz pedal. Actually, two of ’em, for stereo. My friend Carlton was controlling all this with a Z-Tar MIDI controller for a sort of futuristic guitar vibe, which I later experienced myself when I filled in on a handful of live shows.

Since then I’ve made a practice of using this big, growling tone in a number of production styles. What’s great is that sounds sort of like power chords, but it’s deeper, darker, and fuzzier, so it’s nice for filling in the space between bass and electric guitar. Of course there are a ton of ways to distort a synth, but I’ve found some really neat ones, and some secrets along the way that I’ll share. Aren’t you lucky?

Let’s make the synth patch. This is simple, and as long as you’ve got a virtual synth with two oscillators, just about anything will do the job. Select sawtooth waveforms on both oscillators. We’ll make the first oscillator the “root” note, and then set the interval on the second oscillator a perfect fifth up; this is equivalent to seven half-steps up. The filter should be the standard lowpass variety. Cutoff frequency will need to be really low, so the distortion doesn’t sound like a total buzz saw, but it’s best to play with the setting once you set up the distortion. The same goes for the resonance setting. We don’t want any filter envelope, so make sure the filter envelope intensity is zeroed out. The amplitude envelope should be a straight on-off affair; attack at zero, decay at zero, sustain full up and release almost zero.

Now we have a relatively dull one-finger power chord patch. Here’s where you’ll want to plug this guy into a distortiondevice. Now, the fuzzbox of choice can make all the difference between blah and blazam, so choose your weapon carefully, rock soldier. What I’ve found is that the best sounding fuzzboxes usually don’t live inside a computer. And the more extreme, the better. Overdrive or tube screamer-type stomp boxes are usually intended for guitarists to beef up their tone a bit when plugging into an already distorted guitar amp–not what we’re after here. Fuzz boxes aren’t meant to preserve the natural tone of the $4,000 Les Paul you just got, they’re meant to destroy it. The aforementioned Boss Hyperfuzz is such a device, and it sounds great for power chord synth mayhem. I’ve found most octave-fuzz devices sound really awesome in this setting. The venerable ProCo Rat makes a neat synthdistorter too. And my secret weapon: the Danelectro French Toast octave-fuzz. Super cheap, super noisy. Sounds amazing with the octave switch on!

When using stomp boxes, keep in mind that their inputs are designed for electric guitars, which have meager output, so turn things down real quiet. Remember to experiment with the synth’s filter cutoff and resonance controls; you’ll be amazed at how dark the filter can get and still achieve great fuzz tones. Another neat trick: Plug the fuzzbox into a real amp or an amp simulator. No crazy gain settings; use a moderate crunch, such as on Fender Twin or Bassman models. And finally, try some stereo chorusing or doubling to widen up your wall of fuzz; always at the end of the chain; chorus plugged into distortion is bad ugly, not good ugly. Until next month, rattle those fillings with the rawk!


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The right fit: new woman riders should choose their first motorcycles carefully

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Women are the fastest-growing segment of new motorcycle riders in the United States. If you’re a woman who’s recently received your motorcycle driver’s license endorsement, or if you’re still in the exploration phase, we can help steer you to some motorcycles ideal for new riders. (Of course, these bikes and considerations are also applicable to male beginners.)

First, here are some tips to remember when you’re shopping for your first bike:

* Sit on the motorcycle to assess these ergonomic characteristics: Do your feet reach the ground? Can your feet reach the gear shifter and brake pedal comfortably? How comfortable is the reach to the handlebars? How comfortable is the seat? Can your fingers reach the clutch and brake levers? Can you pull in the levers with ease?

* Once you’ve found a few motorcycles you like, test one out on a demo ride, either through your local dealer or at one of the many motorcycle rallies and shows held throughout the country. (You will need a motorcycle endorsement to participate in a demo ride.)

BUELL BLAST

The Buell Blast is the motorcycle used in Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge training classes. The wonderful thing about the Blast is that many riders hold onto it well beyond their beginner years. It’s quite literally “a blast” to buzz around town on, especially when its fuel consumption averages 68 miles per gallon.

The Blast is a standard-style motorcycle for those not sure if they want the laid-back riding style of a cruiser or the zippiness of a sportbike. With 500cc, the Blast has plenty of oomph to it, yet is light enough at 360 lbs. and low enough at 25.5 inches (with the optional low-profile seat) to inspire confidence in beginner riders. MSRP starts at around $4,700.

HARLEY SPORTSTER 883L

If a Harley is what you’re after, the Sportster 883L is Milwaukee’s entry-level motorcycle. With a seat height of just 25.3 inches, most riders will have no problem touching the ground flat-footed. Plus, unlike other midsize cruisers, the 883L has a narrow profile seat, so riders with shorter legs won’t lose precious leg inches with a wide saddle.

While the power and torque produced by a 883cc engine is considered aggressive for most beginners, the motorcycle’s small size makes it a breeze to handle. New riders will appreciate how easy it is to pull in the clutch. Harley reduced the clutch effort significantly in recent years.

The Sportster 883 offers a solid, fun ride on a bike that can be outfitted for touring for those who wish to go long distances. MSRP starts at around $7,000.

HONDA REBEL

If you’re not ready to jump to a bigger bike just yet, the Rebel is an ideal machine on which to continue practicing your skills in a parking lot or in a quiet neighborhood. The Honda Rebel 250 is used in many motorcycle training facilities across the country, so you may have already had experience riding one.

A new Rebel starts at around $4,000, but most people opt to buy a used one because they’ll likely be selling it in a year or two. It’s very low with a 26.6-inch seat height, and light enough at 306 lbs. for most beginners to handle. It’s a 250cc motorcycle so its power is limited, although women have been known to travel long distances on a motorcycle this size.

HONDA SHADOW VLX

The next step up from the Rebel in the Honda family is the Shadow VLX. This bike has been in Honda’s lineup for years because it’s an ideal first bike. It has an ergonomic setup that many beginner riders like: the seat is comfortable, the handlebar reach is just right, the pegs are in the right place, and the 25.6-inch seat height is more than accommodating. The bike is well balanced and has a low center of gravity.

There are plenty of used VLXs on the market, but many riders like to buy a new one and customize it. Saddlebags, a windshield and a luggage rack all can be bolted on for riding longer distances.

Note: this midsize cruiser only has four speeds instead of the more common five-speed transmission found on bikes of this size. However, most beginning riders won’t find this limiting, as there is a wide enough powerband to provide adequate power when needed. MSRP starts at around $5,500.

STAR VIRAGO 250

This is Yamaha’s entry-level motorcycle and is ideal for riders still skittish about handling a bigger bike. The Virago has a big-bike look, but it’s very lightweight at 302 lbs. and has a low seat height of just 27 inches. A lot of motorcycle rider training classes use a motorcycle just like this one. Some riders fresh from the class may still want to practice what they learned on a bike this size.

The Virago has been in Yamaha’s lineup since 1988 (it was called Route 66 back then), so it’s a good solid motorcycle on which to practice basic riding skills. Since most riders don’t hold onto this bike for long, you might find a used one in reasonable shape. Once you feel comfortable enough on two wheels, you’ll be ready to move to a bigger bike. MSRP starts at around $3,500.

STAR V STAR CUSTOM

This is the next step up from the Virago in the Yamaha Star Motorcycle lineup. While power is considerably more with a displacement of 650cc, the V Star Custom’s weight and seat height are still manageable for most beginners due to the bike’s low center of gravity. Seat height is only 27.4 inches and the weight is 474 lbs.

The V Star is the bike of choice for many confident beginners because it handles so well and has plenty of power to keep up with bigger bikes and maneuver through traffic. The V Star has plenty of style, too; you get a lot of motorcycle starting at around $6,800. Bolt on a windshield, saddlebags and other touring accessories, and the V Star can take you many miles into your riding life.

KAWASAKI NINJA 250R

Riders looking for an entry-level sportbike motorcycle will find that their options are somewhat limited. Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R is the only 250cc motorcycle dressed in a sporty package (see photo, page 56). It’s lightweight, easy to handle and provides plenty of power through its six-speed powerband. This bike even satisfies the appetite of some experienced riders because of its zippiness at an entry-level price starting at around $3,000.

The 250R is outfitted with Kawasaki’s UNI-TRAK progressive rear suspension and high-performance disc brakes found on the company’s powerful race-inspired bikes. While the 29.3-inch seat height is higher than most other entry-level models, the bike weighs only 304 lbs., so confident beginners may be able handle the weight of the bike on tip-toes.

New riders desiring a sportbike ride should consider the Ninja 250R before hopping on a more powerful bike.

SUZUKI BOULEVARD S40, S50

Boulevard is Suzuki’s cruiser line. Boulevard’s two entry-level models are

* the S40, a single-cylinder 655cc motorcycle (similar to the Honda Rebel and the Yamaha/Star Virago), and

* the S50 motorcycle, which has a 819cc V-twin motor. Weighing 443 lbs., S50 is 100 lbs. heavier than the S40, but has the same seat height (27.6 inches). Both are extremely easy to handle, but riders who feel a little more confident will want to lean toward the S50 due to its extra boost in power. Both offer a five-speed transmission, which is a nice feature to have on the smaller bike, but both are priced a little higher than the competition, starting at around $6,500 for the S50, and $4,400 for the S40.

Other motorcycles worth mentioning:

BMW F 650 CS–This is a fun, commuter-style motorcycle that’s lightweight and stands out in a crowd.

Ducati Monster 620–This is an entry-level Ducati for confident beginners who want a naked bike (and who want to make a statement).

Genevieve Schmitt is the founder of WomenRidersNow.com, a motorcycling news and information network featuring a comprehensive beginner’s guide for women.


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