The Hub Cool News

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.

Cafe 360

cafe-360With fewer people using its branches for banking, Capital One is serving coffee instead, report Christina Rexrode and Robin Sidel in The Wall Street Journal (7/7/15). As more banking customers move their transactions online, it becomes more difficult to justify staffing branches with tellers to help customers with cash deposits and withdrawals. Yet banks still “want customers to come to branches for money-making financial products such as loans or credit cards.” In response, Capital One is experimenting with a “a cafe format … as a way to promote the bank’s brand without employing a large number of tellers.”

Capital One is operating several Cafe 360 locations around the US. At its New York cafe, customers who pay with a Capital One debit card get a 50% discount on a cup from a Peet’s Coffee & Tea counter. The Wi-Fi is free, too. However, they “can’t sit with a banker who will open an account for them or drop off a loan application.” Nor are there any tellers to assist with routine transactions. “Instead, employees steer customers to its website and answer questions about the bank’s services.” The bank also hosts “occasional alcohol-free ‘appy hours’ that promote the smartphone apps of local businesses.”

Other banks, facing similar challenges, are responding in different ways. Bank of America “soon will begin converting about 9,000 tellers to ‘relationship bankers’ who can direct customers to high-tech ATMs or show them how to deposit a check via smartphone … Wells Fargo recently tested a new process in which customers go online to receive a one-time pass code to speed up the authentication process at the drive through.” The future of US bank branches is clearly in question, with 94,725 currently in operation, “the lowest number since 2005.” “Most banks don’t have a clear vision of where to take the branch,” says Robert Meara, an industry consultant.

Hempcrete

hempcreteHemp — yes, hemp — turns out to be an attractive material for building homes, reports Matt A.V. Chaban in The New York Times (7/6/15). Builders actually have used hemp in construction “for millenniums” and it “has had a long history as a fiber used in ropes, sails and paper products — Presidents Washington and Jefferson both grew it.” Even though hemp “contains no more than 0.3 percent of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana” (which contains 5-10%), it was outlawed in the US in the 1930s. While it is not illegal to use hemp in America, it is generally illegal to grow it.

The idea to use hemp in homes occurred to James Savage when mold consumed flooded homes following Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti that left “thousands dead, crushed by homes that should have been their sanctuaries.” James now has a hempcrete business, Green Built, which is developing “a panelized system” made of hempcrete, kind of like drywall. “Hempcrete is made using the woody, balsalike interior of the Cannabis sativa plant … combined with lime and water.” It “provides natural insulation that is airtight but breathable and flexible.”

Hempcrete is also “free from toxins, impervious to mold and pests, and virtually fireproof … And because the material is grown rather than mined, like traditional cement, or manufactured, like fiberglass, it gives new meaning to green building.” James “envisions a ‘hemp basket’ stretching across New York’s rugged farmlands, supplying locally sourced insulation throughout the Northeast.” He is currently using the material as insulation in his own home, “eliminating his need for air-conditioning.” The rooms smell good, too. Says James: “It has a freshness to it.”

Liyuan Library

Liyuan-LibraryA library made of twigs is a tourist attraction in a small village outside Beijing, reports Jane Perlez in The New York Times (7/7/15). “The spindly sticks are arranged in vertical rows, and their uneven shapes allow natural light to filter into the library’s reading room, while keeping the building cool in the summer and cozy in the winter.” The idea is that of architect Li Xiaodong, who “was captivated by the potential he saw in the village’s most abundant natural resource, the branches of thousands of trees, which the locals harvest for fire.”

The Liyuan library “is basically just one large, casual room” that ostensibly meets “the reading needs of the roughly 50 households” in Jiaojiehe. However, its true purpose is as “a magnet for day-trippers from Beijing, eager to escape the city’s perpetual smog and dirt for a bit of beauty and calm.” One visitor, Li Wenli, says the experience simply can’t be found in a big city like Beijing. “In the city, a library seems to be unnaturally quiet,” she says. “You think: ‘I need to stay quiet because everybody else is quiet.’ But here, the peace is natural.”

The library attracts some “200 visitors a day over the weekend,” says Wang Fuying, the librarian. “They come for fun, take a look, take some pictures and take a walk,” she says. The library’s twiggy design, which makes its “rectangular edges barely noticeable as visitors approach the village,” was “influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.” The idea is “that buildings should be integral parts of the landscape and not objects placed in it.” “We always think of architecture as one piece,” says Mr. Li. “We don’t see the human as detached from the environment.”

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.

Pirch

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.”

GeneU

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.”

Tortillas

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.

Zapf

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.

Zipper

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.”