The Hub Cool News

Corsair Distillery

corsairQuinoa whiskey and “unabashed youthfulness” are separating Corsair Distillery from the pack, reports Adam Brown in Forbes (9/7/15). “Our ethos is, ‘If it’s been done before, we don’t want to do it’,” says Darek Bell, the distillery’s co-founder, along with Andrew Webber. The pair has “made peculiarity the defining characteristic of Corsair’s spirits.” Among their biggest hits is “Triple Smoke (made with Scottish peat and American cherry and German beech woods”). They also make “a barrel-aged gin,” and in a departure from convention have appointed “a woman as their head distiller.” Unlike traditional distillers, which make a virtue of “products with a sense of advanced age,” its products are “always a year old or less.”

“If you want an aged whiskey, I’ll tell you my favorite,” says Darek. Releasing young whiskey may not optimize its strength, but it “enables Corsair to release a lot of whiskeys quickly.” Other than Triple Smoke “it has debuted such unusual recipes as Oatrage (which tastes like a mouthful of Honey Nut Cheerios).” Its quinoa whiskey is “nutty with a peppery finish.” Corsair also produces a beer, Hopmonster, which is “reminiscent of Belgian Tripels and American IPAs … a well-received red absinthe (ruby-hued and floral-tasting after adding red hibiscus) and a gin made with classic botanicals such as juniper and coriander suspended in a basket above the still rather than directly steeping them.”

“We don’t have a board,” says Darek. “We don’t have outside investors. There’s no power struggle. If we want to make a crazy whiskey, we can just do it.” In yet another departure, the Corsair label features a photo of “three black suited dudes,” as opposed to the usual old-timey artwork and reference to an “ancient family recipe.” All of this is working for Corsair, which was founded seven years ago and today sells its spirits “in 39 states and seven countries for about $50 a bottle.” This translates into about “14,000 cases a year, up , from, well, nothing a few years ago.” The duo’s next big more is to grow its own grain on 300 acres of Tennessee farmland, where it “has already built a malting facility.”

Gershwin Shirt

gershwin-shirtA concert violinist is designing performance wear for musicians, reports Michael Cooper in The New York Times (8/18/15). Kevin Yu got the idea that the formal attire that orchestra players must wear should wick moisture like athletic wear after sweating through a concert in Texas. “We were so uncomfortable, wearing what we were wearing,” says Kevin. “We were sweating through our undershirts, through our tuxedo shirts. My bow tie was completely soaked.” Kevin is also a runner, and it occurred to him that he should be just as comfortable onstage in his tuxedo as he was wearing Under Armour on the road.

He first created a prototype shirt called The Gershwin, featuring “a wing collar and pleats” but “made of flexible, moisture-wicking fabric like that used in athletic shirts … Its raglan sleeves extend to the neck without shoulder seams, like some baseball jerseys, to make it less restrictive for musicians who wield a bow, extend trombone slides or beat kettle drums.” The shirts are machine washable and require no ironing. Kevin formed a company, Coregami, and “sold out his first run of 300 shirts in nine days,” priced at $120 each.

The shirts do lack the weave of a traditional shirt, but “it would probably be difficult to detect the difference onstage, especially if the musician is wearing a jacket.” As word of his shirts has spread, Kevin has received requests for black shirts from orchestra-pit players, breathable gowns from choirs, and shirts without pleats from marching bands. He’s already designing “a new tuxedo shirt with a point collar instead of a wing collar” and plans a black shirt for next year, as well as “a women’s line.” He also plans to reinvent the bow-tie so it stretches and gives, as well.

Fish-Eye Filter

fisheyeFish-eye mucus could be the next big thing in sunscreens, reports Rachel Pannett in The Wall Street Journal (8/1/15). It seems that “fish living off Australia’s sunbaked coast” produce a substance that helps “protect their eyes and tissues from sun damage … In laboratory tests, the material was found to be twice as effective at filtering out ultraviolet radiation as traditional sunscreen compounds.” “It protects from both UVA and UVB radiations with an absorption capacity higher than typical products used … in sunscreen creams.”

A “research team … used organic compounds called mycosporines … in combination with chitosan, a polymer derived from crustacean shells and insects. So far, the material has been used to create a clear film whose properties have been tested in the lab. It can also be formed into emulsions and gels that are nontoxic and resistant to moderate amounts of heat and don’t easily wash off in water. The material is odorless, despite its origin in mucus from reef fish, algae and fish-eye lenses.”

This “could lead to new sun creams made of all-natural ingredients and to coatings that protect products from degrading in sunlight, such as outdoor furniture and car dashboards.” While the material “appeared to be relatively photo-stable, meaning it doesn’t degrade when the first UV ray hits the skin,” it “hasn’t yet been tested in real-life situations.” “Whether the UV that a fish is getting through the water is relevant to the UV that you get above the water at the beach is a whole different matter,” says Diona Damian, a dermatology professor.

Innovation Economics

driverlessInnovation doesn’t seem to have much effect on America’s productivity, reports Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal (8/13/15). “Productivity — the goods and services a worker produces in an hour — grew just 0.4% per year over the past five years, one of the slowest stretches in the period since World War II.” Some think it’s just that “productivity stats don’t capture … the benefits of the Internet and social media,” while others say such benefits “are overblown.”

Google, for instance, “has poured money into exotic ventures involving contact lenses, drones and driverless cars, but none has yet yielded a commercially viable business … The buzz over how smartphones have changed so many things obscures how many more they haven’t … economists at JP Morgan note that Americans spend about 10 times as much on air travel as on taxi and livery cabs, and productivity statistics don’t capture ways in which the quality of air travel has deteriorated … Jetliners may carry passengers more safely and cheaply, but don’t reach their destinations any faster.”

Others note, however, “that ride-sharing app Uber is improving car rides in ways not captured by productivity data.” Why it is that “innovative breakthroughs outside technology have been so elusive” is not clear. “One reason may be that industry must devote more of its innovative efforts to ensuring its products are safer and less environmentally harmful, which is good for society but doesn’t raise productivity … Another explanation is that as knowledge accumulates, truly transformative discoveries become harder.”

SoulCycle Loyalty

soulcycleThe promise of self-improvement is the ticket to big profits for SoulCycle, reports Josh Barro in The New York Times (8/9/15). SoulCycle, an “indoor cycling chain,” has but “47 studios in seven states and the District of Columbia.” However, it “reported $25 million in profit on $112 million in revenue in 2014, indicating a fat profit margin of 23 percent.” SoulCycle gets there by charging as much as “$35 a class (plus $3 to rent special shoes that clip into the bike), with discounts to about $28 to participants who buy bulk.” A sold-out “class in a 60-bike studio can gross about $2,000″ and do so nine times a day.

The high price-tag might make SoulCycle seem vulnerable to price-cutting competitors, except that it offers “something unique: a sense that what it sells is more than a workout.” “It’s sold convincingly and addictively as personal growth and therapeutic progress through fitness,” says Ben Dreyfuss of Mother Jones, who counts himself among the addicted. “It’s got the calming bits of yoga mixed with the group-pack mentality of team sports and the weird psychological whatever you want to call it of following a leader into battle.” Another devotee describes the experience as “strangely secksual.”

It seems SoulCycle “is closely associated with a transcendent experience other gyms don’t offer. Replicating that experience is not simple for would-be imitators, because convincing people their workout is a path to personal growth” is not down to just one thing. It is somewhat like Southwest Airlines’ ability to convince customers that “it’s fun not to have a seat assignment.” For SoulCycle, the magic mix includes “mood lighting,” “support staff,” “charismatic instructors” and “custom playlists that match musical beats to choreographed cycling.” The result — and bottom line for SoulCycle — is an enduring customer loyalty.

Fringe Cocktails

blackbirdBartender Del Pedro considers it a success if only 10 percent of customers like his cocktails, reports Robert Simonson in The New York Times (8/6/15). This is not true of every cocktail he makes at Tooker Alley, his bar in Brooklyn, New York — but it is true of one in particular, called the Amethyst. This cocktail is a mix of tequila, genever, Parfait Amour, and Martini bianco vermouth. The result “is light lavender in color and tastes a bit like a violet candy … Though the cocktail is ordered often, one out of every seven or eight is sent back.”

Pedro proudly calls the Amethyst a “ten percenter.” At Blackbird, in San Francisco, such concoctions are know as “Easter egg cocktails,” because they are “surprises that await patrons who give cocktail lists a close read.” Matt Piacentini of the Up & Up in Greenwich Village, NY, calls these drinks “experimental tracks,” and says his goal is to fight complacency. “We have to put stuff out there that pushes the envelope in one way or another and see if people are going to like it,” he says. “Either way, it’s a conversation.”

One of his creations, called Peat’s Dragon, is “a sort of Rob Roy with two types of Scotch and a black pepper tincture.” For the most part, it’s about “bartenders and enthusiasts, people who haven’t tried something with a particular ingredient,” says Matt Grippo of Blackbird. Sometimes curiosity alone predisposes an adventurous drinker to liking the result, even if they maybe don’t, exactly. Nico de Soto of Mace in New York’s East Village says the idea is not “to please everyone … You have to push,” he says. “Otherwise you’d just put raspberry and lychee in every cocktail.”

Applied Minds

applied-mindsWhen it comes to innovation, engineers rarely get as much credit as creative types, reports Jon Gertner in a Wall Street Journal review of Applied Minds by Guru Madhavan (8/4/15). For example, when Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, died, he “was hailed as a national hero” and given “a statesman’s funeral” in London. Margaret Hutchinson, who “developed a fermentation method to mass-produce the drug,” making it available on a large scale, “died fairly anonymously on a winter’s day in Massachusetts.” The value of the way engineers think can indeed be an underestimated asset.

Guru offers “a unifying, cognitive approach” to engineering thinking: “Structure, constraints and trade-offs are the one-two-three punch of the engineering mindset,” he writes. “They are to an engineer as time, tempo and rhythm are to a musician.” Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval took this approach when he developed portable cannons. In terms of structure, the cannon had to be lighter and have interchangeable parts. The constraints were “sometimes those of physics (how wind and air resistance affect ballistics) and sometimes those of industry (the capabilities of 18th-century manufacturers).”

The trade-offs included things like maneuverability versus firing force, or the cannon’s weight versus its durability. He worked it all out, and not only did France boast “the most effective artillery in Europe” but his innovations provided “a blueprint for precision and large-scale manufacturing that has since affected the far reaches of our society.” Such a thought process could be applied to problems in our everyday lives, Jon writes, as “an organizing principle for personal or professional progress … Engineers translate the realm of ideas into practical reality; they not only make the world work, they make the world not break.”

Combat-Ready Kitchen

combat-readyThe US Civil War made the world safe for “an almost limitless variety of foods,” reports Arthur Herman in a Wall Street Journal review of Combat-Ready Kitchen by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo (8/8/15). The mass-canning techniques developed by the US Army “for soldiers who would fight at Shiloh and Gettysburg … spread into the commercial market in the 1870s thanks to Chicago meat packers like Swift and Armour and Co.” The US Army later “developed ways of thermally and chemically treating meat products to kill off bacteria,” to help canned meat withstand the “tropical heat of the Spanish-American War.”

Then along came Spam, during World War II. “It may be a mocked comestible now, but Spam — with its portability, durability and affordability — was a nearly miraculous one in the postwar years.” With millions of troops to feed (“4.7 million in World War I and almost triple that number in World War II”), the Army applied “new flash-freezing, freeze-drying and de-boning methods.” Airtight packaging was deployed for “bread, vegetables and snacks.” Once World War II ended, food manufacturers “focused their marketing efforts on the consumer. Overburdened housewives … were happy to oblige.”

“In significant part because of military influence, food science has made breathtaking strides,” Anastacia writes. However, the “military-culinary complex,” and the “hyper-efficient machinery of American agribusiness, food processors, packers, shippers and retailers,” does come at a price. “Cooking, like music before it, is a dying art,” writes Anastacia. Then there’s the “long-term effects” of “high levels of chemical additives, preservatives and fructose syrups” in our diets. Yet Anastacia acknowledges that the US Army’s innovations do offer her “freedom from drudgery, freedom to do more of what I like and want.”

The EcoTank

ecotankEpson has finally broken the ink-cartridge cartel, reports Wilson Rothman in The Wall Street Journal (8/6/15). We all know the drill: Buy a way-cheap printer for about $60 and then spend something like $400 on ink cartridges each year. Then there’s the inconvenience of ink cartridges running out (allegedly) in the middle of a job. Epson has now introduced a line of printers, called EcoTank, that instead make you pay up front for a printer that includes enough ink to last about two years. At that point, a set of replacement ink canisters can be had for about fifty bucks.

The ink-onomics alone are appealing, although the savings over a traditional printer are not as much if you use bootleg replacement cartridges, which typically cost about two-thirds less than name-brands. The eco-nomics may also appeal to some, since an “EcoTank printer automatically saves you from about 80 little pieces of plastic. If Epson starts selling these printers by the millions, the planet may be spared whole mountains of spent ink cartridges.” For many, the deal-maker simply will be avoiding “the annoyance of changing cartridges and the potential bootleg ink failures.”

Epson is able to offer this alternative because its printers feature “permanent mechanical print heads, as opposed to the disposable thermal ones used by its chief competitors. Because Epson’s print heads are always connected to the printer, ink can be piped to them from anywhere — a cartridge or a tank on the side of the printer.” The EcoTank is designed with “containers on their sides that hold gobs and gobs of ink.” The mechanical heads are more durable than thermal, too, although Epson only guarantees the printer for two years and offers no repair services. The machines range in price from $400 – $500.

The Montainer

montainerHomes fashioned from recycled shipping containers are gaining in popularity, reports Eilene Zimmerman in The New York Times (8/6/15). Driving this trend is Montainer, which offers a turn-key service that includes interior design and construction, as well as local building permits. The containers — or “modules” as Montainer calls them — “come in many sizes but are generally 20 or 40 feet long … 8 feet wide and 9.5 feet tall. The 20-foot shipping container has 160 square feet of space, and the 40-foot container has 320 square feet … Customers wanting larger homes can fit several modules together like Lego blocks.”

“I love the fact that they are taking something that’s been discarded and finding a new use for it,” says Scott Crosby, who purchased a “24-foot-long, 8-foot-wide container that will provide his family with an extra bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchenette.” “I don’t have to make any decisions about the layout, the appliances I need or about the permitting … I just clicked a button to buy and that was it.” The container will expand his existing 1,100 square foot beach house, which Scott shares with his wife and three young daughters. The cost: $65,000 — delivered ready to install on a foundation.

Scott is one of 15 Montainer homes shipped this year, just two years after the company’s launch. Montainer pre-orders, which require a $2,500 deposit, suggest another 30 to 50 will ship next year. The company’s target market is “mainstream buyers who otherwise could not afford to buy a house.” However, they likely will have to pay cash, as lenders tend not to grant mortgages for less than $100,000 and some don’t like backing newfangled ideas. Montainer co-founder Patrick Collins acknowledges the hurdle, but says banker attitudes will change over time and meanwhile, “there’s no shortage of people willing to buy one with cash.”

Cymbal

cymbalA trio of recent college grads have filled “a strategic gap in the digital music business,” reports Denali Tietjen in Forbes (7/29/15). Their creation is an app called Cymbal that is like “Instagram for music. The app adopts a simple interface embracing a ‘less is more’ vibe, allowing users to post just one song, illustrated by colorful album art … Your Cymbal is your song of the moment.” It is added to your “home feed” which “becomes an updated playlist” and “the soundtrack to your life.” Like Instagram, you have a “personal profile, followers, likes, comments, hashtags and tags.”

Gabriel Jacobs, who graduated from Tufts this past May, based the idea for Cymbal on a music blog he created while in high school where he reviewed “one great song per day.” Gabriel became bored with concept after “four years and a thousand songs” and thought that music should be more like a conversation. At Tufts, he met two other computer-science enthusiasts, Amadou Crookes and Mario Gomez-Hall, and they collaborated to create “a social network for song sharing,” or, as they put it, “music discovery powered by friends, not algorithms.”

Within “a few months” of its release, Cymbal was “downloaded at least 17,000 times.” The trio has now “landed $1.1 million in seed financing” and is valued at $6.1 million. Cymbal is actually just one of 34 apps the three guys have developed, including one called iJumbo that Tufts students use “to find out everything from when the next shuttle bus is coming to what is being served at the dining halls.” None of this is new to Gabriel, who created his first app hit at age 14. It was called Fart for Free and featured “some 16 different fart sounds.” It was #1 on iTunes briefly, and generated more than “4 million downloads.”

Sixth Taste

fatScientists now say that fat is a flavor in its own right, reports Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post (7/27/15). We’ve long known about the “four basic tastes: sour, sweet, salty and bitter.” A fifth taste, umami, “perhaps best described as savory,” has recently been added to the lineup. Now a Purdue University nutrition professor says he has proven that fat — most often considered a texture rather than a taste — is also a basic taste. He believes it’s a flavor that will make “tons of food taste better.”

“We could isolate it and use it in the same way we have used other basic tastes,” says Richard Mattes, who conducted two experiments to arrive at his conclusion. In the first test, “more than 100 participants were given isolated solutions that had one of six different tastes” and “asked to sort them into as many groups as they believed were necessary.” Participants easily sorted “sweet, sour and salty” but lumped “umami and fatty” into a “bad” or “strange” group.

In the second test, subject were asked to sort only the “bad” or “strange” tastes, which they easily categorized into three types, representing bitter, umami and fatty. Richard says the “fatty” taste, which doesn’t taste good on its own, is “hidden in a bite of steak or dollop of olive oil,” not unlike the way “umami is hidden in a bite of anchovy.” He compares tastes to primary colors, which can be mixed to create new colors. The taste of fat, he says, could “have huge implications for the food industry,” and “improve the taste of our food.”

Ethical Robots

jerry-kaplanEngineers “are ill-prepared to design social intelligence into a machine,” writes Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply in The Wall Street Journal (7/25/15). The rise of driverless cars and other androids using artificial intelligence ushers in “systems capable of independently pursuing goals in complex, real-world settings — often among and around people … As these systems increasingly invade human domains, the need to control what they are permitted to do, and on whose behalf, will become more acute” and raise all kinds of ethical quandaries.

For example: “Should your car swerve to save the life of the child who just chased his ball into the street at the risk of killing the elderly couple driving the other way? Should this calculus be different when it’s your own life that’s at risk or the lives of your loved ones?” Would it be okay to program your driverless car to re-park itself to circumvent the intent of a two-hour time-limit on parking spaces? Would you want “your self-driving car to strike a pedestrian rather than cross a double-yellow centerline?”

Also: “How will you feel the first time a driverless car zips ahead of you to take the parking spot you have been patiently waiting for? Or when a robot buys the last dozen muffins at Starbucks while a crowd of hungry patrons looks on?” More seriously: “Should it be permissible for an autonomous military robot to select its own targets?” The problem is that “programming intelligent systems to obey rules isn’t sufficient, because sometimes the right thing is to break those rules.” The challenge, says Jerry, is “to create civilized robots for a human world.”

Tunity

tunityAn app called Tunity aims at making outdoor media interactive, reports Ralph Gardner Jr. in The Wall Street Journal (7/22/15). Tunity “allows you to hold your cellphone up to a TV, scan the picture, and stream the audio through your phone.” This could be helpful at a sports bar, for instance, where the sound may be turned down on a game. In fact, Yaniv Davidson got the idea for Tunity while sitting at an airport, waiting for a flight, watching CNN, and frustrated that he couldn’t “hear Wolf Blitzer because the volume was too low.”

He thought: “Why can’t I just have an algorithm that detects the channel and brings me the audio?” As an engineer he knew it could be done, and Tunity “has been operational since the beginning of this year.” Yaniv’s plan is that the app would be free, but he would sell “TV networks or retailers reconnaissance on the viewing habits and demographics of their viewers.” “What it means,” says Yaniv, “is that CNN could get more viewers just by measuring the audience. This is how advertisers buy advertising.”

Beyond that, Yaniv thinks Tunity could “change the way people consume any form of outdoor media” and “the way advertisers communicate with consumers through outdoor media.” So, for example, if you’re in Times Square and “Samsung has this huge sign and they’re showing a video … If you’re interested in that product you can take your phone, scan it for a second, and get the audio.” Where such an ad might otherwise amount to little more than “a lot of visual noise,” says Yaniv, imagine “if we could choose to tune into just the thing that interests us?”

Robotic Airports

biometricsIn the future, the best kind of airport experience may be a robotic one. This could start with a robot that valet parks your car, Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (7/16/15). This is already happening at Dusseldorf’s airport in Germany, where a “system reads the car’s license plate” and then “a robot nicknamed Ray, which looks like a giant forklift, picks up the car by the wheels and moves it. At night robots reshuffle the garage so cars that will be returned the next day are easily accessible … The robots have operated for nearly a year and boosted garage capacity by 32 percent.” (video)

In the future, robots might also pick up your “bags and maybe even deliver them, speeding up the process and reducing manual labor costs.” “Managing your baggage and not making it a pain is part of the airport of the future,” says Jim Peters of SITA, makers of Ray the robot. Dulles Airport is meanwhile using “facial-recognition systems” to streamline passport control, while other “airports use facial-recognition systems to track your movements around terminals. Gates in some airports are automated with doors that flash open like a subway turnstile when you scan your boarding pass or flash your smartwatch.”

“At London’s Gatwick Airport, beacons identify you by your smartphone and give GPS-like directions to your gate, pointing out food or shopping along the way … At the airport of the future, directional signs will be only for backup … In theory, travelers will be more relaxed, with time to get work done, shop or enjoy entertainment since the airport will track their time and location and tell them where they need to be.” Terry Hartmann of Unisys says airports will become “fun again.” “Of course, planes will still have cramped seats and airlines will still run habitually late.”

Ego Tripped

stanton-kawerA business of ideas must give everyone a voice at the table. A Hub Essay by Stanton Kawer of Blue Chip Marketing. If companies wanted to truly understand accomplished models of knowledge sharing, they would observe the collaborative practices of today’s high-school students. The hallmark of my children’s academic experience has been utilizing technology to its fullest extent, leveraging both the access and community it fosters in ways that initially made me uncomfortable.

First it was posting grades online, but soon thereafter it was virtual classrooms or blackboards, in which group chats, submitting assignments and even viewing others’ assignments were the norm. There were more than a few occasions that I, in perhaps a moment of showing my age, thought, “How is this not a form of cheating?” Ultimately, I came to realize that while the lines have been blurred, it was I who needed to let go of what I understood as ‘normal.’ We were the generation for whom self-reliance and independent achievement was the rule, but have now given way to a generation that recognizes beauty in transparency and true sharing. Continue Reading.

Beer Cocktails

beerBeer is growing in popularity as a cocktail mixer, reports Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in The Wall Street Journal (7/9/15). The trend is particularly pronounced in the summer months, as a brew’s carbonation can give a cocktail a “light feel.” Anne Becerra, “a certified cicerone, or sommelier of beer of sorts,” says a good beer cocktail starts with “considering the most striking element about the brew.” She says, for example, that the “grassy green flavors” of Belgian-style beers go well with gin. “Gins are so herbaceous and bright,” she explains. A “roasty, Imperial stout,” meanwhile is better mixed with, say, Kahlua.

The stout, she says, “tames the sweetness, adds carbonation and lightens up the rich, thick booze that you’re drinking.” If the beer is heavy on hops, it can be a tricky mixer. “The bitterness of a hoppy beer can vary so greatly,” Anne says, adding: “Any American single-hop IPA … is very dry and really easy” to mix. “I’ve seen them work amazingly well with jalapeno vodka — something that’s crafty but also earthy and green.” She also suggests coconut vodka, which she says “can taste like a citrus coconut cake.” For a beer mimosa, she recommends a Belgian-style white beer, which features orange peel, coriander and other spices.

Anne has beer cocktail recipes designed for “Margarita lovers; a cocktail reminiscent of honey BBQ; and an IPA for Negroni lovers.” In terms of the mixing itself — stirred, not shaken. The idea is to preserve the carbonation. Anne, who works at Taproom No. 307 in New York City, “typically mixes the cocktail first, then pours the beer into the glass at the end.” Anne thinks beer cocktails are particularly well-paired with food, as “it’s a great palate cleanser.” For grilled meat, she likes to go with “rum and a brown ale,” while for chicken or fish, making “those herbs pop with an IPA.”

Disney’s Vision

disneylandWalt Disney’s “obsession with vintage locomotives” inspired his vision for Disneyland, reports Will Friedwald in The Wall Street Journal (7/15/15). Walt “conceived the whole place as the miniature railway layout of the gods.” The impetus was fan mail from Disney “moviegoers of all ages, some of whom wanted to see how cartoons were produced, but many more who wanted to visit Mickey Mouse and Cinderella where they actually lived.” The execution, at first, was far from perfect, however.

When Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, “difficulties with both the plumbing system and the labor unions made it impossible for anyone to get a drink.” Only a few rides were open, and “most of those were continually breaking down and closing.” The temperature on opening day was 101, and “all the asphalt — poured only a few hours earlier” — stuck to to the shoes of the 28,000 visitors. Disneyland would not be fully operational for another three years, but in true Disney fashion, it was driven by Walt’s “desire to tell stories in a way that necessitated the creation of new media and entire artistic disciplines to go with them.”

Disneyland triumphed by taking “the concept of narrative to the extreme,” immersing visitors “in the story itself … You didn’t just ride a roller coaster — you became Snow White being chased through the forest.” The rides “were as painstakingly conceived as any feature film (or any blockbuster video game today),” complete with “full-scale soundtracks that included original songs.” Meanwhile, Walt struck an innovative media deal with ABC-TV, under which Disney produced a TV show that cross-promoted both the park and its movies in return for ABC helping “to underwrite the park’s construction.”

The Bike Cycle

safety-bike“Was the bicycle invented or discovered?” That’s the “deep question” posed by Andy Ruina, a Cornell professor of mechanical engineering, in a New York Times piece by Natalie Angier (7/14/15). “It’s such a pure concept,” says Andy, “it seems like it existed in the universe even before people thought of it, like the wheel itself, or a prime number.” In fact, the bicycle’s “evolution was long, complex and multinational.” The so-called safety bicycle, in which the wheels “are of equal, hip-high size,” didn’t materialize until the late 1880s. But bicycles certainly are “among the purest means of transportation.”

Bicycles also gave rise to “essential technologies like ball bearings” and “differential gears that allow connected wheels to spin at different speeds. And where would our airplanes, tent poles and lawn furniture be without the metal tubing developed to serve as the bicycle frame?” Not to mention a “radical new invention, the pneumatic tire … Bicycles also gave birth to our national highway system, as cyclists outside major cities grew weary of rutted mud paths and began lobbying for … paved roads.” Bike repair shops “later converted to automobile filling stations,” and both Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers “started out as bicycle mechanics.”

“You don’t get to automobiles unless you first have bikes,” says historian Eric S. Hintz. While notions of a self-driving car seems radical now, bikes have always had a certain self-control. Given some momentum, they can “balance themselves … Learning to ride a bicycle, then, may be less a matter of taking charge than of letting go, of suppressing the impulse to overcorrect the bicycle’s inherently stable momentum.” The bicycle’s ultimate momentum, however, is the freedom it afforded, and its lasting effect “on the nation’s industrial, cultural and even moral landscape.”

Deliv

delivFive mall operators are backing an Uber-esque retailer delivery service, reports Ruth Simon in The Wall Street Journal (7/1/15). The service is called Deliv, and it’s just one of many examples of how shopping-center firms like Westfield and Simon are using a venture-capitalist model to stay on top of innovations at retail. Deliv is “a crowdsourced delivery service that connects available, vetted contracted drivers with retailers that need items delivered. The as-needed drivers make it easier for retailers to compete with Amazon.com and other big e-commerce companies.”

This makes a lot of sense to Simon Property CMO Mikael Thygesen, who likes the idea of using existing stores as distribution hubs. “Fulfilling from the store is very interesting to us,” he says. Simon has a $1 million investment in Union Station, “an online bridesmaid’s dress rental service.” “It’s a potential new retail category that Simon doesn’t have in its portfolio of retailers,” says J. Skyler Fernandes, managing director of Simon Venture Group. Simon also backed Shopkick, “a shopping loyalty app” that “was acquired last year by SK Telecom Co. for $200 million.”

Simon’s investments have ranged “from $250,000 to $5 million.” “We’re finding out where retailers have their biggest problems and then finding solutions whether they are useful for Simon or for retail more broadly,” says Skyler. Westfield, meanwhile, “runs Westfield Labs, which employs a team of software engineers and invests in — and works with — startups.” However, Josh Lerner, a Harvard Business School professor, notes that “returns from corporate venturing programs have been substantially less than those of independent venture groups … We’ve seen some element of faddishness about it,” he says.