The Hub Cool News

Air vs. Overheads

overhead-binsSolving the overhead bins problem may take some airlines a decade, reports Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (6/25/15). For many airlines, the problem is of their own making. By cutting the number of flights to fill more planes to capacity they made it impossible for some passengers to bring bags on board. A Boeing 737-900, for instance, “has about 180 seats” but only enough bin space for 125 carry-on bags. Charging fees for checked bags further compounds the problem, as it motivates passengers to use carry-ons instead. Some note that airlines may have this backwards. “We give away the most valuable space on the airplane — the overhead bin — and we charge for the least expensive space — in the belly,” says David Cush, CEO of Virgin America, which has no plans to change its policy.

Southwest has taken a different approach to solving the problem; it simply doesn’t charge for checked bags, which tends to reduce the number of carry-ons. The airline’s bins also accommodate carry-ons that are “2 inches longer, 2 inches wider and 1 inch deeper than American, Delta and United.” Southwest reports that this “makes it more attractive to travelers, and revenue from extra passengers exceeds potential bag-fee revenue.” Passengers on Spirit Airlines, on the other hand, must pay more for carry-ons ($35) than checked ($30) bags. Those rates go up to $55 and $50, respectively, at the airport. This also reduces the number of carry-ons, and Spirit says it also has improved its record of on-time departures because “flight attendants aren’t frantically checking bags that don’t fit.”

Delta’s possible solution is a valet service that has “airline staff load passengers’ carry-on bags,” on the theory that they can do so faster “and with less wasted space” than passengers. Boeing, meanwhile, is working on “a new bin design … with a bin that pivots up into the ceiling rather than being a fixed cabinet.” New planes can also be ordered with so-called “space bins that are large enough to turn roll-aboard bags on their side instead of lying them flat. That means six bags in each 60-inch long bin instead of four.” Then there’s the Air Transport Association, which proposes “worldwide guidelines that would shrink maximum carry-on sizes by about 21%.” This would force travelers either to buy new bags or pay to check their existing ones — either way paying “to solve a problem airlines created.”

Jane’s Brew

janes-brewJill Amen hopes to take coffee shops to “higher” grounds. Jill has two passions — coffee and cannabis — and is combining them into a new product and potential retail concept she calls Jane’s Brew, reports Olga Khazan in The Atlantic (6/20/15). She got the idea while visiting Amsterdam, where the “coffeeshops” really are “just pubs for pot smoking.” With co-founder Ben-David Sheppard, she launched Jane’s Brew “in January at Hempcon, a cannabis showcase, where it won two first-place awards. It’s now in 100 dispensaries in California, and it moved into Nevada last month.” She’s also eyeing Washington, DC, where “recreational” maryjane is now legal.

Jill and Ben-David recently held a “tasting” party in DC “in the backyard of a small gray house in a nice part of town” because marijuana use is “only legal in private residences.” If Jane’s Brew enters the DC market, “it could only be sold in dispensaries to patients who have medical marijuana cards” because even though it is legal to use the weed it is not okay to sell it. Alex Jeffrey of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, says the DC party underscored that pot use can be respectable. “As a cannabis user, we have to constantly overcome stereotypes,” he says. “I like putting on a tie and being able to talk world politics. We want this to be high caliber.” So to speak.

Jill’s cannabis-infused drinks “consist of regular tea or coffee that’s combined with a secret powder that took a food scientist one year to develop, she says. The powder helps cover the grassy taste of marijuana and blends the cannabis oil into the drink. A standard dose is a cup containing 20 mg of cannabis, but veteran smokers might need a bit more to feel the effects.” Jill says that it usually takes about a half hour for the effect to kick in, and then, she says, “the world opens up.” Ben-David thinks the drinks could attract “grandmothers and aunts who would never smoke, but would love a cup of tea.” The cost is about $7 a cup.


pirchPirch “is looking to reinvent the way consumers shop for appliances,” reports Krystina Gustafson on CNBC (6/18/15). Based in California, with eight other US locations, Pirch offers a shopping experience that has “all the makings of a vacation at a high-end resort.” Shoppers can have breakfast at Pirch, enjoy a beer or a latte — even take a shower or have a sauna bath. The idea is to “let shoppers test the products in its stores, whether it’s turning the dials on a kitchen stove or standing under a showerhead.” Customers reportedly spend “an average of two hours and 11 minutes” at Pirch, which claims “sales greater than $3,000 per square foot.”

The overall effect, says Robin Lewis of The Robin Report, is a “neurologically addictive experience.” “We know that when people walk through the space they’re just stunned and they start to dream,” says CEO Jeffery Sears. “Water runs, the chefs are cooking and people are learning. Pretty soon you just simply say, ‘My house sucks’.” Such dreams can come with hefty price tags, as Pirch’s offerings include “a $12,000 shower head, a $15,000 grill or a $25,000 stone bathtub.” However, the store “carries more than one million items on the plumbing side alone, which makes room for more reasonable entry prices for moderate-income shoppers.”

The focus is luxury, of course, and as such, Pirch doesn’t exactly compete with Home Depot or Lowes. “I think our competition is really Lexus, BMW, Mercedes … three weeks in Africa, a diamond ring,” says Jeffery. “Yes there are people in our space, but we don’t believe we are in the same business they’re in.” Pirch also specializes in just “two home areas — kitchen and bath — to offer a more in-depth experience for shoppers.” Jeffery won’t say whether Pirch is profitable, but “plans to roll out three locations a year,” in 2016 including “a three-level, 32,000-square-foot store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.”


geneuA new skin-care shop in London uses a DNA test to recommend products, reports Courtney Rubin in The New York Times (6/18/15). The shopping experience at GeneU begins with a “good saliva sample, from which DNA will be extracted and serums tailored to one’s genetic blueprint.” The test is “administered by one of a handful of improbably dewy-skinned beauties who also happen to have PhDs.” It takes about 30 minutes to complete, looking at “two genes: one that contains instructions for how fast your body degrades collagen and the other for antioxidant protection.”

The results are combined “with answers to a short lifestyle questionnaire,” fed “into an algorithm, which produces the two of the company’s 18 serums that are the best match.” The cost is about $940, but the pitch is that “it’s a waste of time (and money) to spend years slathering creams” that “are not what your skin specifically needs.” “For us it’s about giving people the right concentrations that their skin can metabolize,” says Christofer Toumazou, who is both GeneU’s founder and a professor at Imperial College London. He’s not a dermatologist, and neither is GeneU’s creative director, Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Nick “designed the shop … which looks like a cross between a science fiction movie set and a silver-gray-and-red-dipped Apple store.” He also “recruited Antony Price, the designer of Duran Duran’s fluorescent suits in its Rio video “to create staff uniforms of silver silk pants and matching tops with standing collars.” Clinical trials “suggest that GeneU reduces fine lines and wrinkles by up to 30 percent in 12 weeks,” however Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, a Stanford University professor of dermatologic surgery, is skeptical. “It’s the environment that drives aging,” he says, adding that he nonetheless thinks GeneU’s idea is “really cool and admirable.”


tortillaChipotle plans to create “artisanal tortillas on an industrial scale,” reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (6/17/15). This starts with streamlining the ingredients, which currently include “fumaric acid, calcium propionate, sorbic acid and sodium metabisulfate.” Chipotle’s new recipe stipulates just four ingredients: “whole-wheat flour, water, oil and salt.” The goal is to “create a tortilla that is as soft, pliant and tasty as something an abuelita may make in her kitchen” — but make “more than 800,000″ of them each day.

Chipotle founder Steve Ells issued the mandate to achieve this goal after someone mentioned that the chain’s tortilla’s contained corn starch, which he didn’t know. It came up because of Chipotle’s drive to eliminate genetically modified ingredients and “most cornstarch comes from genetically modified corn.” The tortilla mission is being led by the Bread Lab at Washington State University, which is also tasked with figuring out how to make the tortillas more nutritious by making them out of whole-wheat flour. This makes the task even more challenging.

The solution is to use “hard, white wheats,” says Bethany Econopouly, an expert in wheat breeding. “Those are really great because they’re light in color, so people who are naturally averse to whole wheat are less aware of them,” she says. The resulting tortilla is said to be “golden brown with a slightly nutty taste and a bit of elasticity.” Chipotle is currently testing their manufacture with one of its tortilla suppliers and plans to keep increasing batch sizes, and then roll out the tortillas, region by region.


zapfEveryone who reads has experienced the genius of the late Hermann Zapf. And yet, reports Bruce Weber in The New York Times (6/9/15), his work “is under-appreciated for its impact on how people communicate and receive communication.” In his lifetime, Mr. Zapf “created around 200 typefaces in numerous alphabets, including Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Cherokee, spanning the eras of metal typesetting, phototypesetting and digital typesetting.”

You may or may not know his most famous work as Palatino or Optima, but you’d likely recognize them. “What Michelangelo was to sculpture and Beethoven was to music, that’s what Hermann Zapf was to calligraphy,” says Jerry Kelly, himself a typographer and calligrapher. His “genius lay in his solutions to the central problem that type designers, like industrial designers, face: expressing creativity while being circumscribed by practicality.”

The constraint is the alphabet itself, and the challenge to “find originality” within the boundaries of legibility, says Matthew Carter, designer of fonts including Verdana and Georgia. A type designer must work “letter by letter but also with a concept of a whole” that simultaneously must consider the “shapes of letters … modulations in the thickness of a letter’s lines” and “the relationship of the letters to one another.” Hermann Zapf was 96.


sticky-fingersThere was just one problem with the zipper on the Sticky Fingers album jacket. The problem, reports Joe Coscarelli in The New York Times (6/8/15), was that it was an actual working zipper, and its head damaged the vinyl on the third track of the B side of the record, the Rolling Stones’ 11th American studio album. Craig Braun, who designed the jacket, thought he had solved the problem by placing a layer of cardboard between the zipper and record, but when the LPs were stacked in shipping this just wasn’t enough protection.

It was a creative solution, though. Craig figured that if the zipper worked, people would pull it down to see what was underneath. The cover art was an Andy Warhol design and Warhol was ready with an appropriate image — of tighty whities — for the protective cardboard layer. The ultimate solution was to have the “little old ladies” on the assembly lines pull the zipper halfway down, which placed the zipper head in the center of the disc, where it could do no harm. Craig figured it “was even better to see the zipper pulled halfway down.”

The record also was the first on the Stones’ own label and introduced the now-famous “lips and tongue” logo. (image) The idea was Mick Jagger’s, supposedly inspired by the Hindu goddess Kali. (image) A British art student, John Pasche, created the logo, Craig refined it and featured it prominently in the American release. Neither man made much money on the design, although Craig licensed it from the band for a memorabilia line in the ’70s. “The merchandising for the Rolling Stones is in the billions now,” says Craig. “I should have stayed in the business.”

Retro Bikes

priority-bikesBicycles are the biggest obstacle to people riding bicycles, reports Rachel Bachman in The Wall Street Journal (6/9/15). While the number of people running is growing, the number of people biking is flat, at best — and it’s mostly because the bikes are too complicated and expensive, the selection overwhelming and the people who sell bikes maybe a little intimidating. With running, it’s just a matter of being fitted for running shoes. Many “are just looking for a bit of exercise and enjoyment,” which apparently is less true of the more intensely competitive biking crowd.

Some bike makers and retailers are trying to address this with a return to simpler, cheaper bicycles. Priority Bicycles, which got its start on Kickstarter, offers a “three-speed bike,” with “puncture-resistant tires” and coaster brakes. It costs $400, is sold online only, and comes with a tire pump. Public Bikes also sells basic bikes online, as well as at three retail stores. “We want to create an inviting, accessible gallery experience where the bikes have the breathing room to call attention to the color and the form,” says chief operating officer Dan Nguyen-Tan.

The trend toward simpler bikes may have started with “urban bike messengers” who “adopted fixed-gear bicycles because of their ease to maintain.” Shawn Granton, an “enthusiast of three-speed bicycles,” says this led to more stylish casual bikes. Mark Trimble, a bike shop owner, says riders are also “moving away from dressing like insects, tight Lycra and all that stuff.” NPD reports that sales of “leisure bikes surged 19% in the 12-month period ending in March, while racing-bike sales “dropped 3 percent in the same period.”

Glass Eyes

google-glassGoogle Glass is finding a fertile market on factory floors, reports Bob Tita in The Wall Street Journal (6/315). The smart glasses don’t look so smart on people but they do make people look smart on assembly lines. The main problem Google Glass solves is the room for error inherent in looking back and forth between the task at hand and written instructions. At Boeing, for example, factory workers “had to rely on paper maps” to determine whether they were placing “dozens of coded wires into corresponding holes.”

With Google Glass, “an assembler reads out loud the coding on a wire” and “the correct hole on the electronic version of the map lights up and flashes, providing an easy-to-follow guide.” In addition to reducing “the error rate for wire insertions … to zero from about 6 percent … the time needed to assemble a wire harness has dropped by more than 60 percent.” Fred Edman of Boeing says Google Glass also is a comfortable fit with “a lot of the Millennials in the wire shop” who “are very knowledgeable about technology” and “took to it very quickly.”

So, while Google Glass fizzled on the consumer market perhaps because they looked goofy, it’s another story at factories, where people often wear goggles anyway. “Style points don’t get you very far in an industrial environment, but productivity does,” says Tom Bianculli of Zebra Technologies, which sells its own computer headset “for rugged industrial use.” The potential downside is that increased “work speeds could increase the risk of accidents or injuries,” as could the distraction of the pop-up messages. Others note that the devices could compromise “secure computer networks.”

Ballpoint Pens

bic-cristalA boy rolling a ball through a puddle inspired the invention of the ballpoint pen, writes James Ward in The Wall Street Journal (6/6/15). As it continued onto the dry pavement, “it left a line of water in its wake.” Laszlo Biro happened to observe this as he sat in a Budapest cafe. Laszlo was a journalist and inventor who was “frustrated when the heat of the printing presses made his fountain pen leak.” He noticed how the presses applied ink and “wondered if he could develop a pen that worked similarly.”

The problem was that the printing press applied ink with cylinders that “could only roll backward and forward, while a pen needs to move in all directions.” The ball and puddle led him to design a pen that used “high-quality ball bearings” and “minute grooves in the head of the pen to draw ink to the tip.” Meanwhile, in America, Milton Reynolds an entrepreneur who had failed to secure the US rights to Biro’s pen, created his own version, but without the grooved head. The result was blobby, blotchy and scratchy, but the pens sold like crazy.

In fact, thousands lined up outside Gimbels in 1945 to buy the pens at $12.50 each (about $160 in today’s dollars). Milton guaranteed his pens and replaced “104,643 faulty pens in the first eight months alone.” Faith in ballpoint pens wasn’t restored until 1949, when Patrick Frawley introduced the Paper Mate pen “with a retractable nib and quick-drying ink.” But it was Marcel Bich who truly revolutionized the ballpoint with the Bic Cristal in 1959, “an icon of modern industrial design,” of which “more than 100 billion have been sold to date.”

The Elio

elioThe Elio has three wheels, costs $6,800 and gets 84 miles to the gallon. It will be made by Elio Motors — if founder Paul Elio can get another $230 million in funding, reports Jeff Bennett in The Wall Street Journal (6/4/15). That’s on top of the $70 million Paul has already raised from an angel investor and some 41,000 true-believers who have plunked down a deposit “ranging from $100 to $1,000” for a place on a waiting list. Those who opted for a non-refundable deposit — which is most of them — will get priority.

Paul’s goal is to sell 250,000 of his three-wheelers annually. “It’s a lot of vehicles, right?” he says. “But I believe we can sell to people in the new-car market, used-car market, those who drive clunkers and those who just want it, too … The Elio is personal transportation, and people are going to want one even though they own other cars.” Even if Paul is right about the potential market, he faces huge hurdles when it comes to financing his vision. “Our capital markets aren’t set up to fund a new car company,” he says.

Most venture capitalists “heads pop off” when they hear the Elio needs $300 million before it can start making money, says Paul, who is trying to cobble together most of the rest of what he needs through a loan from the US Department of Energy. If he succeeds, Paul plans to build the car in a former General Motors plant and sell it “directly to consumers through company-owned stores,” like Tesla. Paul is not a billionaire like Elon Musk, though — he has had to take a job as a roofer to pay bills while pursuing his three-wheeler dream.

The Edsel

edselFord marketed the Edsel as an “entirely new kind of car,” but it really wasn’t, reports Michael Beschloss in The New York Times (6/7/15). It did introduce some “gadgetry like Teletouch Drive — which let drivers shift gears … by pushing buttons at the center of the steering wheel.” Its ride also “shook like jelly,” according to Consumer Reports. That may or may not have been an entirely new kind of driving experience. And, oh, that oval grille, which “was intended to pay homage to European luxury cars,” but reminded some people of a toilet seat, or worse.

What Ford had in mind was a car that would appeal to “upwardly mobile Americans” who had been “trading up from lower-priced Fords to competitors’ middle-priced cars because Ford’s higher-priced Lincolns and Mercurys seemed out of reach.” The first problem was that the Edsel’s pricing ($4,000) “overlapped with Ford’s own upscale Mercury product line. People could not figure out whether the Edsel was a mid-market or luxury automobile.” Then there was the timing, smack dab in the middle of a recession and the height of the space race.

The 1957 recession set back upwardly mobile aspirations, boosting “thriftier compact cars” like the Rambler American. The space race — specifically, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch — “seemed to endanger every American hamlet” and made the Edsel seem frivolous. The greatest flaw, however, may have been Ford’s assumption that the only real difference between economy and luxury was the price. Ford believed that car-buyers made their choices based on a car’s “personality,” but consumers were “shrewd enough” to see right through that.

The Eureka Factor

eureka-factorScientists are finding ways to uncover the mysteries of human insights, reports Samuel Arbesman in a Wall Street Journal review of The Eureka Factor by John Kounios and Mark Beeman. The challenge of gaining insights into insights is that moments of inspiration are both rare and unpredictable. Scientists can’t just “put a mathematician inside an fMRI machine and demand that she have a breakthrough over the course of 20 minutes or even an hour.” John and Mark have developed a clever workaround, though.

The idea is to provoke a moment of insight on relatively small scale, which can be accomplished by giving the subjects a brain teaser and waiting for them to solve it. This might be a “task like the following: Think of a word that unites these three other words, when it comes either before or after each of them: pine, crab and sauce.” This can be solved either by “trying different words and eventually hitting on the right one, or just immediately jumping to the correct one: apple.”

When the latter happens, scientists can catch the “gamma waves” that “occur in the part of the brain near the right ear that is associated with making connections between ideas.” They “can begin to piece together a rather complicated, though still incomplete, picture of various aspects of insight.” The remaining question is “whether or not big breakthroughs might be different … from more trivial realizations.” If nothing else, the exercise shows how “clever experiments can be designed to answer specific questions and rule out alternative possibilities.”

Fonts of Wisdom

albert-einsteinLeave it to Albert Einstein to make the world safe for good penmanship. A typographer in Germany has produced a font that lets anyone write a note in Einstein’s handwriting, reports Sarah Sloat in The Wall Street Journal (6/4/15). “The idea was that a spark of Einstein’s genius would rub off on people using the font,” says Harald Geisler, who first started working on his Einstein font six years ago. Initially, he was intimidated by the legalities and royalty terms imposed by the Einstein estate, and diverted his energies to a Sigmund Freud font. (link)

Flush with the success of his Freud font, Harald re-approached the Einstein estate with success last year. To maximize the font’s accuracy, he designed “at least five alternates of each lower- and uppercase letter. As a user types, the font selects an alternate based on nearby characters. In the word ‘mass,’ for example, it avoids pairing identical s’s.” Harald says Einstein made his work easy — relatively — because he “had very neat handwriting … It’s not at all what you’d expect from a genius.” (link)

Neatness isn’t always the goal, however. In fact, it can be the opposite as technology allows “fonts to look truly human — that is, slapdash and casual … Some fonts seem to smudge a page, or screen, with ink. Others let letters jump erratically off the line, or appear to run out of ink as a quill pen would.” “Some look like they went through the washing machine,” says Indra Kupferschmid, a typography professor. “The paradox is these are popular as people become more digital.” Other available fonts replicate Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson.

Airplane Windows

airbusThe airplane of the future will have no windows, reports The Economist (5/30/15). Instead, it will have exterior cameras that will project the scene from outside the airplane on a “thin-screen video display on either side of the passenger compartment.” If the scene is nothing but clouds or stars, the screens could be used to show movies. This “multiplex digital cabin” is expected to be available in 2020 in the S-512 via Spike Aerospace, which “could carry 12-18 passengers from, say, LA to Tokyo in just six hours, at Mach 1.6.

By 2050, Airbus envisions a “bionic cabin covered with … a ‘biopolymer membrane,’ a sort of tough plastic coating which can be electronically controlled to turn opaque or transparent on command, thus eliminating the need for conventional windows.” So, as the plane descends into New York, for instance, “the ceiling and walls turn transparent to provide a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline.” When opaque, the walls could mimic sunrises and sunsets to help passengers adjust as they change time zones.

Meanwhile, “rigid divisions into first, business and economy classes” will have disappeared, replaced with “transforming seats” constructed of “memory materials which can morph into different shapes,” adapting “to the size of an individual’s body — and their travel budget. The more you pay, the more space and comfort the seat will provide.” Of course, whether any of this actually ever happens “depends … as much on the unforgiving economics of air travel as on the imagination of designers.”

Supermarket Shelves

coopThe supermarket of the future will have no shelves, reports Alberto Mucci in Munch (5/28/15). Instead, the supermarket has “long, low wooden tables,” recalling a local market. That’s the vision put forward, anyway, by Coop, “Italy’s largest supermarket chain,” in a prototype store at Milan’s World Fair, in collaboration with Accenture and MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory. The idea is to make food shopping “a moment of exchange and interaction.” Or, as MIT’s Carl Ratti elaborates, “interactions between people and products and people and people.”

To that end, Accenture’s Alfredo Richelmi says it’s essential for people “to be able to see each other” and maybe even have a conversation. Unless, that is, they are too absorbed in the “series of black screens” hovering above. As shoppers pick up an item, “data pops up on the screen” with information on where it was grown, “its nutritional properties … and even its carbon footprint.” Because the tables offer less space than traditional shelves, a system of elevators ensure they remain fully stocked. Robots, meanwhile, package up products on the fly. (images)

Shoppers also have the option of specifying their diet via an app “and having an algorithm suggest the best products the supermarket has to offer that meets their preferences.” The store itself is organized to reflect “the natural production chain,” telling stories from fresh and raw (e.g., tomatoes and grapes) to packaged and processed (canned tomato sauces and bottled wine). Coop has no plans to turn its prototype into “an actual supermarket,” but does expect to “learn important lessons, some of which may be transferred to the real world.”

The Age of Awe

carla-hendraAwe hangs out at the intersection of extreme pleasure and mild fear. A Hub White Paper by Carla Hendra of OgilvyRED. Everybody has their own idea of what awesome means to them. A lot of that revolves around the amazing things that are possible today because of design, innovation and technology. I recently had what I thought was an awesome experience, and it all happened while I was in motion inside a London cab. I was on my way to a meeting and drove by a retail store I know well from New York — Kate Spade. At about 30 miles an hour, that only took two seconds. But in those two seconds I saw, and fell in love with, a rose-patterned dress draped on the mannequin in the window.

I wasn’t stopped in traffic, so I only caught a glimpse of the dress. That was enough. iPhone in my hand, I immediately Googled “Kate Spade Floral Dress.” In less than a second, that beautiful dress appeared on my screen, and I could see links to the sites where it was for sale. Ten seconds later, I had ordered it on with Paypal, and arranged for its delivery to my New York apartment by the following day. The dress got home before I did! I arrived home the following day and found it there in all its glory. The same dress I’d literally whizzed by just the day before, some 3,000 miles away. Continue Reading.

Go Enjoy

go-enjoyRon Johnson is back with a bid to re-invent the e-commerce experience, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (5/7/15). Ron, as you’ll recall, is both celebrated for his role launching the Apple stores and maligned for his time as CEO of JC Penney. His new venture, an e-commerce play called Enjoy, is designed “to create the friendliness of an Apple Store in people’s homes and offices.” The concept is to “send an expert to hand-deliver tech products” ordered online and help people set up and learn how to use them, “at no additional cost.”

Ron calls the concept “personal commerce.” “E-commerce today is primarily logistics and convenience — you order today, and, boom, get it tomorrow,” he says. While he believes that the traditional model isn’t going anywhere, he also thinks that the smartphone, and “local delivery networks” has introduced new possibilities. The idea does not fall far from the hugely successful Personal Setup service Ron “created at Apple that offers free in-store assistance to people who buy new products.”

“I remember when we launched that, Steve said, ‘Are you sure you can do that? Your stores are busy’,” says Ron. “But I thought it was the right thing to do. And within a matter of weeks of launching it, well over half the purchases were being set up in store.” The Enjoy model calls for a limited selection of “only about a dozen or so high-margin” items. Ron “believes that by limiting selection,” Enjoy can “squeeze enough out of each purchase to cover delivery and personal consultation.” Enjoy initially will be available in New York City and San Francisco only.

Edison’s Dolls

edison-dollVoices of the “the world’s first recording artists” are being heard for the first time, reports Ron Cowen in The New York Times (5/5/15). Those would be the voices of “the young girls hired to recite” rhymes for use in Thomas Edison’s talking dolls. The dolls were introduced in 1890 and they “were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside,” etched on wax cylinders, “featured snippets of nursery rhymes” and “wore out quickly.”

Edison’s dolls are quite rare and, until now, the recordings couldn’t be played because to do so “might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder.” But now “a government laboratory” has “developed a method to play fragile records without touching them. The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.”

The method, “developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley,” is known as Irene, which stands for “Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.” The technology, which was “recently acquired” by the National Document Conservation Center, has also been used to extract audio from “dirt-stained recordings” featuring Woody Guthrie, in which the legendary folksinger “tells jokes, offers some back story and makes the audience laugh,” revealing a performance otherwise lost to history.

American Orthography

trThink of Teddy Roosevelt the next time you drive through a drive-thru, suggests Thomas V. DiBacco in The Wall Street Journal (4/16/15). The 26th US president, in 1906, issued an executive order intended to “transform the English language” via simplified spelling. TR, along with industrialist Andrew Carnegie “looked at spelling reform as efficient and cost-cutting, meaning that newspaper, magazine and book sizes could be reduced, as could class time devoted to spelling.” The extra letters in English and French spellings were a special target.

At the time, some streamlined spellings “were already in use, including ‘arbor,’ ‘ardor,’ and ‘clamor,’ (instead of arbour/ardour/clamour) or ‘judgment’ and ‘acknowledgment’ (without the silent ‘e’).” Others were a tougher sell, such as ‘blest’ instead of ‘blessed’, ‘kist’ rather than ‘kissed’ and ‘past’ instead of ‘passed.’ TR also sought to drop the extra ‘r’ on ‘purr’ and consolidate the “combined letters ‘oe’ as in ‘subpoena’” into just an ‘e.’ Transforming ‘tonight’ into ‘tonite’ and ‘though’ into ‘tho’ certainly have enjoyed some staying power.

TR’s executive order (one of 1,081 he issued during his tenure) “directed that all publications of the executive department adhere to the … new spellings for 300 words delineated in his order.” He said his goal was “to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic.” In the other branches of government, the Supreme Court ignored TR’s guidance, while the House of Representatives issued a resolution “urging that all government documents” stick with standard orthography. TR “immediately withdrew his executive order.”