In 2010, the Sony Corporation sold more than $70 million worth of eight-track cassette players, horse and buggy sales topped $70 million at General Motors, and Hair Club generated more than $70 million by peddling tiny patches of human hair to bald men. Preposterous, you say? Well, sure, especially that last one. But of course only the last one is that true. The Hair Club chain is now owned and operated by the Regis Corporation, and according to the Regis Corporation’s 2010 annual report, Hair Club generated $141 million in revenue in 2010, half of which came from its hair replacement service. Technologies come and go, and yet in the age of Rogaine, Propecia, and increasingly sophisticated hair transplant techniques, the old-fashioned toupee — employing the same basic technology it has for the last 5,000 years — remains a solid seller.

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The station wagon is dead — again — and like the many demises it has already suffered in its long fruitful life, this one comes with an asterisk. The reason for the asterisk is that there are still dozens of vehicles on the market that answer to the name “station wagon.” The reason for the declaration of death — and subsequent obituaries — is Volvo’s recent announcement that it will soon stop selling station wagons in the U.S.

 

In 1999, the niche purveyor of sensible transport for NPR-Americans sold 40,000 station wagons and felt its fortunes were on the rise thanks to the quirky, post-ironic aesthetic sensibilities of a new generation of car buyers. “It used to be that when you were married and expecting your first child, it… More…

In a vast ballroom at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator from the musical Million Dollar Quartet is doing his best to pump up the crowd. It’s 2 p.m. on an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in February, only about half the seats are filled, and truth be told, there is not a whole lot of shakin’ going on — more like a moderate amount of somewhat engaged sitting. But the fact that there’s a crowd here at all, and that it’s not completely unwilling to belt out a chorus when directed by the faux Lewis — or by the other rock ’n’ roll replicants on stage, who include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins – stands as a genuine accomplishment.

 

That’s because the crowd is made up of car salesmen, and… More…

If Shanghai isn’t really China (as I was repeatedly told by Shanghainese), and the Expo isn’t really Shanghai (in but not of the metropolis, they also insisted), then I really have no clue where I spent 10 days last month. I ate Swiss fondue, bought a Kyrgyz felt hat, and had my passport stamped “Trinidad” by a young Chinese woman who never looked up from her text messaging. It was thrilling to visit North Korea and pretend the guard watching me was compiling a surveillance report on “the American with straw hat and a digital camera.” I think he really was. The replica of the Trojan Horse was undeniably creepy, hovering in the ominous blue light of a well-sacked mock-Troy. There was a parade every night and lines all day and the staff drilled and marched in military display. I was encouraged to consider the universality of 21st-century urban life… More…

What is it about autumn and the dedication of major engineering projects in the American Southwest? Seventy-five years ago, on September 30, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Colorado River just south of Las Vegas to dedicate the Boulder Dam, better known as the Hoover Dam. On October 16, 2010, dignitaries and public spectators will gather 1,500 feet downstream to dedicate the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik. 512 pages. Free Press. $30.

The Bypass dedication ceremony is going by the name Bridging America. Its website warns attendees to expect high temperatures, dry and windy weather, little shade, minimal refreshments, long waits, and “walking on dirt.” One hopes that with such adverse conditions, spectators don’t fail to note the irony of marking the 75th anniversary of an engineering… More…