Fashion runs in Dries Van Noten’s blood — his father owned a boutique in Antwerp, Belgium, and his grandfather was a tailor. As a child, he attended menswear shows across Europe with his father, which sparked his interest in design. He became the most successful of the “Antwerp Six,”...More »
An alert reader recently pointed my attention to a free online service offered by big-three credit bureau Experian that allows anyone to request the personal identification number (PIN) needed to unlock a consumer credit file that was previously frozen at Experian.
Experian’s page for retrieving someone’s credit freeze PIN requires little more information than has already been leaked by big-three bureau Equifax and a myriad other breaches.
The first hurdle for instantly revealing anyone’s freeze PIN is to provide the person’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number (all data that has been jeopardized in breaches 100 times over — including in the recent Equifax breach — and that is broadly for sale in the cybercrime underground).
After that, one just needs to input an email address to receive the PIN and swear that the information is true and belongs to the submitter. I’m certain this warning would deter all but the bravest of identity thieves!
The final authorization check is that Experian asks you to answer four so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions. As I have noted in countless stories published here previously, the problem with relying on KBA questions to authenticate consumers online is that so much of the information needed to successfully guess the answers to those multiple-choice questions is now indexed or exposed by search engines, social networks and third-party services online — both criminal and commercial.
What’s more, many of the companies that provide and resell these types of KBA challenge/response questions have been hacked in the past by criminals that run their own identity theft services.
“Whenever I’m faced with KBA-type questions I find that database tools like Spokeo, Zillow, etc are my friend because they are more likely to know the answers for me than I am,” said Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher in networking and security for the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI).
The above quote from Mr. Weaver came in a story from May 2017 which looked at how identity thieves were able to steal financial and personal data for over a year from TALX, an Equifax subsidiary that provides online payroll, HR and tax services. Equifax says crooks were able to reset the 4-digit PIN given to customer employees as a password and then steal W-2 tax data after successfully answering KBA questions about those employees.
In short: Crooks and identity thieves broadly have access to the data needed to reliably answer KBA questions on most consumers. That is why this offering from Experian completely undermines the entire point of placing a freeze.
After discovering this portal at Experian, I tried to get my PIN, but the system failed and told me to submit the request via mail. That’s fine and as far as I’m concerned the way it should be. However, I also asked my followers on Twitter who have freezes in place at Experian to test it themselves. More than a dozen readers responded in just a few minutes, and most of them reported success at retrieving their PINs on the site and via email after answering the KBA questions.
Here’s a sample of the KBA questions the site asked one reader:
1. Please select the city that you have previously resided in.
2. According to our records, you previously lived on (XXTH). Please choose the city from the following list where this street is located.
3. Which of the following people live or previously lived with you at the address you provided?
4. Please select the model year of the vehicle you purchased or leased prior to July 2017 .
Experian will display the freeze PIN on its site, and offer to send it to an email address of your choice. Image: Rob Jacques.
I understand if people who place freezes on their credit files are prone to misplacing the PIN provided by the bureaus that is needed to unlock or thaw a freeze. This is human nature, and the bureaus should absolutely have a reliable process to recover this PIN. However, the information should be sent via snail mail to the address on the credit record, not via email to any old email address.
This is yet another example of how someone or some entity other than the credit bureaus needs to be in put in charge of rethinking and rebuilding the process by which consumers apply for and manage credit freezes. I addressed some of these issues — as well as other abuses by the credit reporting bureaus — in the second half of a long story published Wednesday evening.
Experian has not yet responded to requests for comment.
While this service is disappointing, I stand by my recommendation that everyone should place a freeze on their credit files. I published a detailed Q&A a few days ago about why this is so important and how you can do it. For those wondering about whether it’s possible and advisable to do this for their kids or dependents, check out The Lowdown on Freezing Your Kid’s Credit.
In the face of a category 5 hurricane, Delta Air Lines meteorologists, dispatchers, pilots, cabin crew, and ground crew accomplished an incredible feat on Wednesday. As Hurricane Irma bore down San Juan, Puerto Rico, Delta sent one last flight to help evacuate a few hundred people from San Juan just before the airport closed.
A hard drive containing unfinished works by Terry Pratchett has been crushed by a steamroller, as per instructions left by the fantasy novelist.
It is thought up to 10 incomplete novels were flattened at the Great Dorset Steam Fair.
The six-and-a-half tonne Lord Jericho was used to roll over the hard drive several times before a concrete crusher finished off the remains.
Pratchett died aged 66 in March 2015.
The creator of the Discworld series had been battling Alzheimer's disease.
Before vanquishing the hard drive, Rob Wilkins, the writer's long-serving assistant, tweeted that he was "about to fulfil my obligation to Terry".
70 million sales
44 years of writing
Richard Henry, curator of Salisbury Museum, said: "The steamroller totally annihilated the stone blocks underneath but the hard drive survived better than expected so we put it in a stone crusher afterwards which I think probably finally did it in".
He said Pratchett did not want his unpublished works to be completed by someone else and released.
He added: "It's something you've got to follow, and it's really nice that they have followed his requests so specifically.
"It's surprisingly difficult to find somebody to run over a hard drive with a steamroller.
"I think a few people thought we were kidding when I first started putting out feelers to see if it was possible or not."
With 12 stores and counting, Japanese bookseller Kinokuniya is slowly expanding its footprint in the U.S. The most recently opened locations are in Texas. The first site it picked was in Plano, but the company soon realized it was too small so it found a larger location. The 5,000-sq.-ft. outlet in Carrollton opened in February and an 1,800-sq.-ft. shop in nearby Plano opened in April.
Asked why the company opened two stores in such close proximity to each other, Shige Ono, general manager of Kinokuniya USA, said it was a pragmatic decision. “Toyota moved its headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to Plano last year, so we saw an opportunity to cater to the thousands of Japanese engineers, executives, and members of their families who will be moving there.”
Kinokuniya is headquartered in Tokyo and has 100 stores worldwide, including locations across Asia, in the U.S., and in Dubai. Its first American store opened in San Francisco in 1969, and today its American head office is in New York City, at the chain’s branch near Bryant Park, which, at 26,000 sq. ft., is its largest location in the U.S. Other locations in the U.S. include five stores in California and one each in Chicago, New Jersey, Portland, and Seattle, as well as five stationery stores under the brand name Mitsuwa.
“We are expanding slowly and deliberately,” Ono said. “Just one or two stores per year. Last year was phenomenal, as we saw double-digit percentage increases at our stores. This year’s increases are more modest, ranging from about 5%-8%, depending on the store, but we are still very happy with the continuous growth. Adding new stores helped further increase the total sales for the company.”
The product mix at Kinokuniya stores encompasses a wide range of books—of which 30% are in Japanese—and sidelines, including manga, anime-related toys, games, and other media. “Our line of Japanese manga and anime is unsurpassed in North America,” Ono said. “A big part of the appeal for customers is that we have things you cannot buy anywhere else. We have a special relationship with [publisher] Kadokawa, and they work exclusively with us on many items. Manga is definitely the strongest category, but fashion and design is also very popular. Another strong category is literature; what makes us unique is that we specialize in literary works from around the world, especially Japanese and Asian authors.”
Ono stresses that the authentic Japanese products are part of what has helped the company keep a foothold in a very competitive marketplace. Still, the retailer is a bookseller first, with nonbook items representing 20%–40% of stock, depending on location.
The stores, said Ono, serve as “ambassadors” for Japanese culture to American shoppers. The demographic of customers shopping at the stores has changed over time. “My impression is that, 20 years ago, more than half of our customers came from Japanese backgrounds,” Ono said. “Today, that number is probably down to about 20% or less.”
As such, Kinokuniya is becoming more active in its stores’ communities. The two bookstores in Texas recently participated in Texas Independent Bookstore Day, the New York store routinely holds author events and book signings in conjunction with Bryant Park, and several of the California stores hold children story-time readings and offer classes in Japanese subjects, such as origami paper folding.
The stores are in no way standardized. “Our goal is to give each store the appeal of an independent bookstore, rather than the cold feel of a massive corporation,” Ono said. “Our slogan is ‘read books, meet people,’ and tailoring our stores to the surrounding communities is a key part of making that slogan a reality. If you compare our stores in Texas, New York, Tokyo, and Singapore, you will be surprised at how much they differ. But they, as a whole, form the Kinokuniya brand, of which we are very proud. We strive to make Kinokuniya not just a place to buy books, but a place where people come together and enjoy the experience.”
A version of this article appeared in the 08/28/2017 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Kinokuniya Seeing Steady Growth In the U.S.
How the glow went from strip clubs to trendy restaurants
For decades, the iconic neon sign outsideKatz’s Delicatessenon the Lower East Side has been drawing in hungry, late-night partiers like moths to a pastrami-sandwich flame. It is one of the few classic restaurant signs left in a city that is constantly in flux, where neon was once in style, then out of style, and now very much in style again.
Neon restaurant signs are increasingly lighting up the city: Down the street from Katz’s, El Luchadorhas a sign that reads “Tacos vs. Burritos,” as if to urge customers to choose between two legendary (and tasty!) masked wrestlers. Over on Orchard Street, Dudley’s displays a pulsing affirmation that “Everything is going to be fucking amazing.” A few blocks north at Asian tapas restaurantCarma East, a neon sign washes the darkened dining room in a white and yellow glowing pun: “Let The Lights Dim Sum.”
The modern neon restaurant sign is more than the utilitarian block text that reads “Open” or “Bar”: It is now an inspirational or witty remark, sometimes rendered in handwritten typeface. It’s an intricately designed graphic, often displayed indoors. Neon can be found at fast-casual to fancy restaurants, from the hyper-efficient salad assembly lines at Sweetgreen, to upscale destinations like Cutby Wolfgang Puck, a brand that has Michelin stars in two locations. The proliferation of neon was perhaps unthinkable just a decade ago, when the glowing tubes invoked images of strip clubs, dive bars, and seedy, late-night diners.
Neon signs didn’t always have negative connotations. In the early 20th century, French engineer Georges Claude developed a way to produce large quantities of neon gas, which was eventually used for commercial purposes. Neon made it across the pond, at first in the form of signs for a Packard car dealership and subsequently became popular in American cities and along highways like Route 66, advertising everything from motels, shops and, yes, even restaurants.
The first signs were so bright and seemed so otherworldly that people would stop and stare at them for an awkwardly long time. But in the 1960s, new municipal signage laws and cheaper alternatives lead to a sharp decline in neon sign usage, except in places like Times Square and Las Vegas, where it came to represent the shimmering splendor of those cosmopolitan centers. But as those cities developed a reputation for crime and seediness in the following decades, so did their brightest, most visible markers.
For Jeff Friedman, the head of sales for Tribeca-based sign producer Let There Be Neon, the comeback for neon signs in mid- to high-end restaurants began with the artist Tracey Emin, who has rendered her handwritten expressions in neon for her work since the early 1990s. These art pieces made their way into hotels and restaurants, at first in London where Emin is more of a household name, and then the rest of the world.
“We have people coming in asking for reproductions of Tracey Emin,” says Friedman. “Of course, we have to decline.”
Schiller’s Liquor Bar, which opened 14 years ago and is closing August 13, was one of the first restaurants to bring back neon as an element in design, says Elizabeth Von Lehe, the director of strategy at design firm I-Crave. The McNally restaurant uses neon around the bar and has a sign outside that is so iconic that it appears in Saturday Night Live’s opening montage.
“Their neon use was what created that nostalgia and approachability that you now see is paramount for a successful upscale restaurant,” says Von Lehe. “They were the Instagrammable moment before Instagram. ”
Success on the photo-sharing platform can make or break a restaurant especially when it first opens and is a big reason why neon is becoming increasingly common in dining rooms across the city.
The degree to which the food and space is photogenic “defines the modern restaurant,” says Becca Parrish, CEO of restaurant public relations firm Becca PR. “When a restaurant provides sweet-looking elements to shoot, they make it easy for guests to share their experience… with friends and anyone watching.”
“[Neon] photographs beautifully, much better than a lit painted sign,” says Richard Pandiscio, who has designed branding and interiors for hotspot like Le Coucou and The Grill. “That does make it perfect for Instagram. There’s also a warmth and a touch of nostalgia that comes with it, the sense that the establishment has been around a while.”
Shay & Ivymanaging partner Evan Rosenberg calls his restaurant’s neon sign the “most Instagrammed thing inside of the venue,” echoing the sentiments of many other restaurateurs. “After our sign went up, the Instagrams started rolling in,” said Adam Fulton, co-owner of The Garret East in the East Villagewhich has a sign that declares, “No Bad Days.”
“It's an opportunity for your diners to be your marketers with Instagram,” says Von Lehe. It lt also stretches a restaurant’s marketing and design budget.
No restaurant has more experience with this than Two Handsin Tribeca, where model Karlie Kloss posted an Instagram of herself posing in front of the neon sign in the ladies’ bathroom, tagging the restaurant in the process. Her 6.3 million followers lapped it up to the tune of over 140,000 likes. With a Karlie Kloss Instagram post valued at between $25,000 and $50,000, the return on investment for the $1100 sign has been pretty good.
“The neon image does a great job of standing out within the Instagram feed,” says Phillip Huynh, director of paid social for advertising agency 360i. “It’s a unique visual that stops the scroll for a second, which is typically all that is needed to generate engagement and brand awareness.”
Indoor neon use at restaurants doesn’t always work as intended. When Cut by Wolfgang Puck first opened in downtown Manhattan, the neon sign in the dining room (which reads “Move Me”) was so bright that it cast an eerie purple glow across everything from the tablecloths to the food itself. The restaurant eventually had to dampen the brightness after complaints from customers.
“People were having seizures,” joked one employee about the situation.
Inside Let There Be Neon’s ground-level shop in Tribeca, a team of artisans try to meet the increased demand for handwritten typeface signs and other fanciful designs, which has increased from being just 1 percent of the business just five years ago to 7 percent today.
“It is an area of neon creation we had not previously seen,” says Friedman, who notes that traditional typefaces and non-restaurant commercial applications still account for the bulk of his orders.
Unlike LED panels and other types of signage, there is no automation — every neon sign must be made by hand. The company’s master glassblower, Jimmy Vu, began honing his craft in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in 1988. He found such a dearth of artisans working in the field here that he had his son Joseph train as a glass apprentice. On a muggy July afternoon, the duo works on their latest project: a sign for Luke’s Lobster.
The process starts with a blueprint of the neon sign printed to scale, which Vu uses as a bending guide as he heats the glass tube on a ribbon burner that operates at 1200 degree Fahrenheit. The glass quickly becomes malleable and a bend is created before Vu blows into the tube, expanding the bent glass back to its original diameter as it quickly cools. He repeats this process until the tube has been twisted over itself dozens of times to form the shapes based on the guide.
Once Vu is done bending the glass, his son takes them over to another station, where the tubes are emptied of air and attached to electrodes. If the tubes are filled with neon gas, the sign will glow red; electrified argon gas will glow blue. Using a combination of various gases and coated tubes of different densities, the artisans are able to create almost a hundred colors of varying degrees of brightness.
From there, the signs are painted, mounted, and attached to a transformer that will convert American 110-volt outlets to the 1,000 to 15,000 volts needed to charge electrons inside the tubes and make it glow. Because the gas exists in a vacuum, the glass tubing will last forever, provided that it doesn’t break.
For Luke’s Lobster — which started as a small shop in the East Village that’s now a chain with locations around the country — neon was never a consideration until this year.
“In the early days we had the initial impression of neon signs, and the general public has it too, that they are gaudy,” says Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. But as neon has become more ubiquitous, management’s opinion on it warmed, especially since neon signs solved visibility issues for locations in busy areas like Nomad and Union Square.
“I definitely do see neon more,” says Conniff. “I think there is a general design trend towards the industrial, towards repurposing elements that you might not have traditionally found in restaurants, to invoke a certain vibe. Neon plays into that feeling.”
Whether it’s to instill a sense of nostalgia and approachability, or just a really thrifty and beautiful way to rack up the likes on Instagram, neon can be spotted everywhere, from fast-casual spots like Shake Shack and Sweets by Chloe, to high-end restaurants like Ocean Prime and Cote Korean Steakhouse. DeKalb Market Hall, a collection of more than 30 food vendors in downtown Brooklyn that opened just last month, has neon signs affixed to almost every stall, creating a quasi Hong Kong/Tokyo vibe.
Neon signs also play a crucial role for the rapidly expanding Major Food Group, which trades heavily on nostalgia. The signs appear in a handful of MFG’s restaurants where it makes sense, from the old-school Mulberry Street-inspired neon signs of Torrisi andParm, to the glowing pink ones that frame the entry to Dirty French — that MFG managing partner Jeff Zalaznick says was inspired by “70s porn neon.” The Carbone sign is a rendering of the restaurant’s name over the deteriorating remnants of the iconic neon of Rocco Restaurant.
“In my mind, it was one of the great New York signs,” says Zalaznick. “We left it exactly as it is. We put ‘Carbone’ over the main part, so what you have is a sign that is looking to what we were doing, but also preserving the past.”
Special thanks to Melissa McCart, Serena Dai, and Matt Buchanan