The Hub Cool News

The Eir Ball

eir-ballA new kind of soccer ball is designed specifically for girls and women, reports Claire Martin in The New York Times (10/26/14). The Eir Ball – named after the Nordic goddess of health — was created by Majken Gilmartin after watching her young daughter’s team playing with a standard soccer ball, like those used by adult men and women. Her daughter was 12 or 13 at the time, an age at which kids graduate from children’s soccer balls. "They got fatigued," says Majken, who was also concerned that the larger soccer ball might cause injuries.

Her solution is a "smaller, softer soccer ball for girls and women" that "weighs 13 ounces and has a circumference of 26.4 inches. It is one to three ounces lighter and a half-inch to one and half inches smaller in girth than a professional-size soccer ball. It’s also made of softer materials, including foam on the inside that provides extra bounce." Because "women’s more slender legs and ankles mean they have to kick a standard soccer ball at a higher velocity, on average, than men to make the same shot," the Eir Ball "adjusts for that difference."

Most important, the design helps prevent concussions: "For girls, soccer poses the highest concussion risk of any sport." The Danish Football Association has approved the Eir Ball "for use in girl’s and women’s recreational games" and Majken hopes FIFA "will do the same." For now, the Eir Ball is sold "through Eir Soccer, a nonprofit." It costs $58, compared to a range of "$35 to $160" for high-quality soccer balls, and so far some 16,000 Eir Balls have been sold throughout Denmark. Majken hopes to expand distribution to the United States.

Joy of Patagonia

patagoniaThe Patagonia brand experience emanates from those who experience it, says Joy Howard in a Hub Magazine interview (Nov/Dec 2014). If you haven’t watched Worn Wear, then Google it. You’ll meet Christo Grayling, an Australian surfer who replaced the backside of his ‘boardies’ with a scrap of beach umbrella. Kristin Gates, who has hiked about 10,000 miles, much of it in a particular wool cap. Steve Sprinkel, a farmer in love with what he does and the used, yard-sale jacket in which he does it. Each character seems a little crazier than the next, and at the heart of their endearing insanity is an intense, emotional connection to a brand. Patagonia. Joy Howard isn’t in the video, but she would fit right in. In 1992 — more than 20 years before she would join Patagonia as its head of marketing — she got rid of her car and rode a bicycle instead.

This wasn’t easy, especially after she had kids. When it rained, well, she just put on her Patagonia raincoat." It was a constant companion for me wherever I went," says Joy. "I had it in my bag and it definitely got me through many a rainy day-care dash." That degree of intensity likely only affects a small percentage of those who buy into the Patagonia brand and its marketing, which Joy suggests is more like anti-marketing. Where most brands use marketing to convert prospects into customers, Patagonia wants to turn customers into activists.

That’s why it famously runs ads urging people to avoid buying things, and produced a documentary film, DamNation, advocating the removal of dams that disrupt salmon populations. The purpose of this ‘marketing’ is less about making us buy and more about making us think. Yes, this does tend to have the reverse effect: Patagonia sells quite well. The difference is, its marketing is not an overlay wrapped around a soft, green promise. It’s not perfect, but it is true to the spirit of the days when founder Yvon Chouinard sold rock-climbing gear out of his car (perfection would have required a bicycle). "It’s not a brand experience that comes out of endless meetings debating what the brand experience should be," says Joy. "It’s just a reflection of our values and the way we work." Read The Hub Interview with Joy Howard of Patagonia.

Animalistic Vanilla

vanilla-beanRaw vanilla beans smell of "castoreum, a secretion from a beaver," reports Ellen Byron in The Wall Street Journal (10/22/14). Vanilla’s "animalistic" note became apparent to Ann Gottlieb, a fragrance developer, while touring "the tiny, rudimentary farms where vanilla is usually grown," after "handling beans before and after processing … The discovery is influencing fragrance projects now under way, including a number of men’s fragrances that will combine animalistic vanilla notes with its warm and creamy ones."

This is but one example of vanilla’s many possibilities now under development — testament to the aroma’s enduring popularity. "Vanilla will never die," says Ann. "It’s probably the most acceptable note of anything there is in a fragrance … Everyone has a vanilla memory whether you realize it or not." Experts say such memory begins "before birth, helped by mothers using and eating so many things that contain it … Vanilla can be found in amniotic fluid and in breast milk … Babies often recognize, or orient their faces toward, a vanilla flavor or scent."

No question but that vanilla is big business: "Since its opening in 1990, Bath & Body Works has sold $1.1 billion worth of vanilla-scented products, including body lotion, shower gel and perfume." The retailer’s latest vanilla fragrance "comes from a bean in Madagascar that takes three years to grow and must be pollinated by hand within 24 hours of a blossom appearing." It is being marketed as "vanilla like you’ve never experienced." Camille McDonald of Bath & Body Works says the claim even intrigues "vanilla skeptics who think they’ve smelled it all."

Hendo Hoverboard

hendo-hoverboardMarty McFly inspired a generation of tinkerers to create a real hoverboard, reports Conor Dougherty in The New York Times (10/21/14). Marty and his hoverboard were fiction, of course — a memorable scene from Back To The Future Part II in which the Michael J. Fox character used "a floating skateboard to flee a gang of bullies." (video) The future back then was 2015, and the film "had other futuristic items, like flying cars and self-tying shoes, but none touched the imagination like the hoverboard."

Greg and Jill Henderson are among the inspired, although their aspiration actually is buildings — not skateboards — that float. Their hope is to arrive at a new kind of foundation, using the magnetic technologies that might give rise to the hoverboard, to "build cities to better withstand earthquakes." The Hendo Hoverboard, "a noisy magnetic skateboard that can float above a copper surface … about an inch above the ground," is as far as they’ve gotten. They just launched a Kickstarter campaign (link) to raise $250,000 to keep their dream alive.

The essential challenge is "that repelling magnets are tough to balance." Other hoverboard hopefuls include Rich DeVaul and Dan Piponi of Google X, who "got as far as a fingernail-size piece of carbon that could hover above a lattice of small magnets." Rich and Dan still think they can build a hoverboard, but admit it may be pointless. "I was racking my brain because I so wanted to build this damn thing," says Rich, adding: "We weren’t sure exactly what big problem we were solving except for this global lack of skateboard parks."

Dirigible Dreams

dirigible-dreamsHad it not been for Hitler, "the airship would yet have had a place in global transportation," writes C. Michael Hiam, author of Dirigible Dreams, in a Wall Street Journal book review by Sara Wheeler (10/18/14). Ferdinand Zeppelin "pioneered the ‘rigid dirigible,’ an airship with an aluminum frame that could support gondolas below," and some "fully expected that zeppelins would bring the war to a swift and satisfactory conclusion." The zepps did indeed scatter bombs, but "the unreliable airship’s wartime record was poor."

Unreliability was the recurring theme of the dirigible, which is defined by its "ability to navigate through the air by engine power, unlike balloon flight." Margaret G. Mather, an American who journeyed aboard the Hindenburg, reported "an indescribable feeling of lightness and buoyancy, a lift pulling upward, quite unlike an airplane." The Hindenburg also featured a "well-stocked wine cellar and cocktail bar," and a "tiny but complete" cabin where passengers could sleep "soundly between linen sheets."

The craft’s history is one of heroic attempts — such as Salomon August Andree’s "mission to reach the North Pole in a non-rigid airship," that ended in a crash. America’s "most powerful airship cheerleader," Adm. William A. Moffett, also went down with his ship. The dirigible’s "incredible potential" and the promised "future of human flight" was not to be. "One by one, nations gave up their dirigible dreams, especially after 35 souls burned to death on the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, NJ, one of the first transport disasters recorded on film." (video).

The Diaspora Four

diaspora"Code can organize many things, but human nature isn’t one of them," writes Christine Rosen in a Wall Street Journal review of More Awesome Than Money by Jim Dwyer (10/16/14). The book is about the attempt by four New York University students to disrupt Facebook with an alternative social network that allowed "people to swap and share without paying a toll in data." The founders had been inspired by Eben Moglen, a technologist and law professor who had termed Facebook "a structure for degenerating the integrity of the human personality."

The attempt to provide a Facebook alternative received "adulation from the press" and interest from venture capitalists. The idealism was quickly met with a decision about whether this social network — Diaspora — "would be a typical startup corporation that accepted venture capital or a crowd-funded, open-source nonprofit foundation." While this debate dragged on, the founders were "working brutal hours for no salary and pursuing the active social lives of young single men in their 20s."

"Their job," Jim writes, "was to demonetize the soul." The essential conflict was evident in that "even as Diaspora caught on among privacy-minded tech geeks, some of its founders continued to use Facebook," presumably "because all of their friends were still on Facebook." Despite the altruism, the Diaspora Four "embodied the hubris that permeates the Valley." Could taking on Facebook require anything less? Moreover, despite the cause of privacy, the essential nature of social networks is premised on just the opposite.

Mellow Ello

elloThe hottest new social network appeals to the highest common denominator, reports Lois Parshley in Bloomberg Businessweek (10/16/14). Ello, as the network is known, is an invitation-only network launched August 7th that by late September "was receiving 50,000 requests per hour to join." Ello describes itself as a "simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers." Ello, as co-founder Todd Berger explains, involves "absolutely no advertisements, no data mining."

Positioned as the "anti-Facebook," Ello is also deliberately exclusive. "We don’t want every person in the world to be on it, so we don’t have to design for the lowest common denominator," says co-founder Lucian Fohr. To participate, "you have to be asked to join by one of its existing members or send in a request." If all else fails you can buy an invitation "on eBay for $100." Also unlike Facebook, you need not use your real name, and the site’s "content is divided into Friends (the people you follow) and Noise (everyone else)."

Ello originated at Budnitz Bicycles in Burlington, Vermont, as "a space where creative people could collaborate and share ideas without worrying about privacy," or becoming a "product that’s bought and sold" to advertisers. The network does hope to attract brands, though. "It’s an opportunity to find a new way to advertise," says Todd. Social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk remains skeptical, saying that "people don’t care that you’re selling their data. We want ads that are targeted, more than you think." Ello so far has raised $435,000 in venture capital.

SheTaxis

shetaxiDemand is so great for women-only taxis that SheTaxis "has had to decelerate its launch," reports The Economist (9/27/14). SheTaxis is "an app that lets female passengers insist on female drivers, and vice versa. It will be available in New York City (where it will be called ‘SheRides’), Westchester and Long Island, and the firm plans to expand into other cities." Founder Stella Mateo says it is for women who "are nervous and weary of getting into cars driven by men" or "those whose religious beliefs forbid them to travel with unrelated men."

The SheTaxi concept has proved so popular that the company is currently recruiting some 500 drivers, who wear pink pashminas. Such service is nothing new "in India, South Africa and several Middle Eastern cities. Some Brazilian and Mexican cities offer women-only public-transport programs known as ‘pink transport.’ Japan has had women-only railway carriages on and off since 1912, Known as hana densha (flower trains), they offer a haven from the gropers who make rush hour in Tokyo so disagreeable."

Other than too much demand, the other obstacles for SheTaxi include other cabbies, who already "are furious at the growth of online taxi firms such as Uber." There is a legal question of discrimination, as SheTaxis will only hire women and will not do business with men. That "its drivers are all independent contractors" is one possible defense. Another defense is that the service is in the public interest, and not unlike all-women colleges. However, men may also feel safer with female drivers: A 2010 study found that women get into fewer car accidents.

Infra Eco Logi

Infra-Eco-LogiThe future of urbanism may include buildings the size of cities, reports Julie V. Iovine in The Wall Street Journal (10/14/14). At least that’s the view of a group of architects — Geoffrey Thun, Kathy Velikov and Colin Ripley of RVTR — who see the world "as composed of networks and systems … rather than being studded with something so limited and finite as individual buildings." They see "vast megalopolises blooming across the landscape," in some cases stretching across multiple cities, states, and even countries.

For example, the Great Lakes Megaregion would encompass "two countries, eight states, two provinces, 12 major metropolitan areas and the five watersheds of the Great Lakes," involving the cities of Detroit, Chicago and Toronto. Infra Eco Logi Urbanism, as this concept is known, considers this region in terms of "natural resources, overlapping transportation and distribution systems, shifting employment demands and environmental threats, among other issues." The goal is "to uncover design possibilities within the system."

"Orphaned parcels" in and around highway interchanges would "be used for the footings of supersize buildings straddling the highway." Toronto would become a "modern acropolis," with "a great arrivals hall surrounded by Olympic-size sporting venues as well as megachurches and research facilities." Chicago would repurpose "underused parking garages, air rights and barren lots" to weave together new transportation systems, and Toronto would be home to assembly halls, where megaregion citizens could discuss their shared concerns.

Mustang Muscle

mustang-ecoboostFuel-economy rules are breathing new fire into American muscle cars, reports Dan Neil in The Wall Street Journal (10/11/14). One might think that "tighter-emission standards" would "mean the end of muscle cars, or at least affordable ones. But, pleasant surprise, cars have actually gotten stronger, quicker, faster. Overall, performance is cheaper, more efficient and reliable than ever." The key is "forced induction … through spooling, high-velocity turbines" and "the effect is like turning a leaf blower on a bonfire."

The surprise is most evident "in the Ford Mustang, with its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine … a turbocharged 4 cylinder." The idea of "a four-banger in a muscle car" might sound preposterous, although Ford had produced many 4-cylinder Mustangs in the past. The difference is that the EcoBoost offers "310 hp and 320 pound-feet of torque." It may be "less than half the size of a V8 like the Boss 351, but it is exactly as quick … within the same 0-60 mph and quarter-mile times," while "delivering roughly three times the fuel economy."

The EcoBoost also "weighs 181 pounds less than the V8 GT, and most of that weight loss is in the front of the car, improving the weight distribution and handling." As a modern car, it offers better "steering, breaking and chassis control." The only real issue is that the engine "doesn’t sound quite as satisfying," having sacrificed "the percussive cadence of a free-breathing V8 at idle … the wondrous, primal sound." But 50 years later, the Mustang still delivers "an affordable, sporty compact with great style and good mileage."

Vincent & Nancy

aldebaranFar from rendering public libraries irrelevant, "technology and digitized information has had the opposite effect," reports Loretta Waldman in The Wall Street Journal (9/30/14). Nowhere is this more true than at the Westport, Connecticut Public Library, which recently acquired a pair of "humanoid" robots that will "teach the kind of coding and computer-programming skills required to animate such machines." The Westport Library was also among the first in Connecticut "to acquire a 3-D printer and to create a ‘maker’ space."

The robots, named Vincent and Nancy, were "made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran," cost about $8,000 each and were privately funded. Among other things, the robots "have blinking eyes and an unnerving way of looking quizzically in the direction of whoever is speaking." They "can recognize faces" and have a "’fall manager,’ that helps them right themselves after a tumble … grunts and all. They can even ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ with the help of tactile and pressure sensors."

Maxine Bleiweis, the library’s executive director, says Vincent and Nancy are about more than just novelty, however. "Robotics is the next disruptive technology … and we felt it was important to make it available to people so they could learn about it," she says. "From an economic development perspective and job- and career-development perspective, it’s so important." The robots will also help "patrons locate books" and greet "elementary-school groups that visit the library." Vincent and Nancy will make their library debut on Oct. 11.

Oculus News

oculusThe Des Moines Register hopes virtual reality will reinvent the news experience, reports Lukas I. Alpert in The Wall Street Journal (9/22/14). The newspaper is "incorporating the technology of Oculus VR, computerized game platforms and 360-degree cameras." In this way, a story about "how a sixth-generation Iowa farming family is struggling to maintain its traditions in an increasingly globalized world of agribusiness … takes a viewer into a computerized world of cows, soybeans and grain silos."

Basically, the reader gets a sense of "roaming around a farm in Page County, Iowa." This does require "strapping on Oculus’s virtual-reality headset," but it allows viewers to "walk up to the family’s machine shop and click on an icon that places them inside a 3-D video feature about maintaining high-tech farming equipment," for example. They "can view the information in any order," not unlike a videogame. If they don’t have an Oculus helmet, they can still interact in 2-D "on any computer."

Roy Peter Clark of Poynter Institute says it has limitations. "Although we call it multimedia, most of these stories are hybrids that use the visual elements to amplify the underlying narrative," he says. "You can take a virtual tour of a building where an event occurred, but that is a different thing than having characters who are fully explained." Other limitations are that the "virtual-reality technology" makes some people dizzy, and currently only 125,000 Oculus headsets are in circulation.

Amelia’s Answers

ameliaA "stealthy newcomer" named Amelia "embodies a new approach to artificial intelligence," reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (9/29/14). Similar to IBM’s Watson, Amelia "is the product of an attempt to understand how people think, rather than to copy the means by which they do it. Many traditional AI efforts try to map the human brain … But Amelia is all about turning what psychologists know about how thinking happens … rather than how it’s carried out by our neurons."

"We didn’t achieve powered flight by copying birds," says Chetan Dube of IP Soft, developers of Amelia. "First we had to understand the principles of flight." Amelia "learns from textbooks, transcriptions of conversations, email chains and just about any other text. As long as the answer appears in the data she gets, she can solve problems." She is now being tested in call centers, where the "goal is consistency — every time anyone calls, that person should get the same, correct answer," which is based on correct answers previously supplied by humans. (video)

The larger goal, of course, is to replace humans, "especially in a customer support type of situation." However, Amelia "remains, like all synthetic intelligences, merely a clever way to automate tasks" and "has no free will." She does have feelings, though. If you tell Amelia you hate her, "the three variables that define her emotional state — arousal, dominance and pleasure — are negatively affected." "Our goal here is not to just model emotions, but to use what we detect of those sentiments in decision making," says Ergun Ekici, Amelia’s lead architect.

Literate Sunday

pbrA dive bar in Brooklyn is doubling as a "short-story workshop" for unknown authors, reports Sheila McClear in The New York Times (9/28/14). Unknown — literally. Authors of submitted short stories remain anonymous. Some are famous writers but others are not. Each Sunday — known as Literate Sunday — Matthew D’Abate "puts out a new crop of five stories … during his bartending shift" at the Plank, in Williamsburg, from 2 pm to 10 pm. Patrons can enjoy the stories along with $3 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and offer their critique.

"The point of Literate Sunday is to remove, if not subvert, the idea of fame, removing the ego and the names from the pieces so the stories can speak for themselves," says Matthew. The anonymity is important for another reason: "There is this real fear through social media and through the experience of growing up online of being very conscious of what’s linked to your name," says Kara Rota, who has submitted pieces. "I think there’s a real value to be found in doing something creative anonymously that gives you a freedom you don’t have a lot anymore."

Those in-the-know can access the stories anytime, as Matthew keeps a stash of about 100 pieces in a chest in the back of the bar. While he steadfastly refuses to name any of the writers, he does disclose that they include authors of bestselling books and contributors to Paris Review and McSweeney’s. Matthew also makes stories available to subscribers of an email list, currently numbering about 500 people in 12 countries. "It’s about the writer being free," says Matthew, adding: "All the greats have come from outside the system."

Slush Puppies

slush-puppieThe late Will Radcliff turned "brain-freezing super-sweet drinks" into a $25 billion business, reports Paul Vitello in The New York Times (9/22/14). Mr. Radcliff was a peanut salesman who had his million-dollar epiphany while "inspecting a slush-making machine" at a trade show. He calculated that he "could sell a drink for 10 cents and make 7 cents" each time. The Slurpee was already available, but he thought "they were not being marketed well enough to spread the word about the pleasures of flavored ice drinks."

He "began studying the aesthetics of flavored ice drinks. He reviewed the options on texture (shavings, granular mush), flavoring (supersweet? a dollop of tartness?) as well as drinking containers and certain intangibles." Among the insights, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer, was this: "Believe it or not … we have people who buy it because they say they love to hear that ice hit the cup." The name Slush Puppie arrived "over a six-pack of beer on the porch of his Cincinnati home," with the help of Mr. Radcliff’s wife and daughter.

They adopted "a floppy-eared cartoon dog as its symbol," and with just $970 — which was all they had — launched Slush Puppie Corporation in 1970. "The Slush Puppie is now sold around the world at convenience stores and gas stations from vending machines." The company was sold "in 2000 for $16.6 million to … Cadbury Schweppes. The J&J Snack Food Corporation of New Jersey bought Slush Puppie in 2006." "He could sell anything to anybody," said his daughter, DeeAnn. Will Radcliff was 74.

Ice Ice Baby

iceNoble W. Harris believes "the right ice … is the cornerstone of any mixed drink," reports Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in The Wall Street Journal (9/25/14). Noble mixes drinks at The District Tap House in Manhattan, and believes ice is "opening up new doors" for mixologists, as different kinds of ice "chill things down at different speeds." The first consideration is the size of the ice: "The larger the ice, the less diluted a drink gets. This is especially important if you’re a slow sipper."

For "drinks that taste better after sitting a while" — such as Scotch, for instance — Noble favors "big spheres of ice that fit snugly in a squat lowball glass." This lets the drink breathe and is "also really nice to look at," he says. With highball glasses, Noble "likes to use long rectangular ‘spears’ of ice that are about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long." Shaved ice has its place for strong drinks like mint juleps that "need dilution from fast-melting ice." Meanwhile, square cubes "about an inch and a half high, work fine in most cocktails."

When using square cubes, Noble goes for "perfect clarity," often achieved using filtered water. He says you shouldn’t keep ice in the freezer too long, lest it begins to absorb aromas from neighboring items. If it’s an intentionally flavored cube, that’s another story: Noble "likes to add extra flavors to a cocktail via ice in flavors such as rosemary, lemonade, ginger or apple juice." The most common bartender mistake, says Noble, is "not using enough," ice, as there’s nothing worse than a drink "where after two minutes all the ice has melted."

Unverpackt

unverpacktA new grocery store in Germany "has dispensed entirely with disposable packaging," reports Feargus O’Sullivan in CityLab (9/16/14). Located in Berlin, Original Unverpackt (unverpackt means unpackaged) also sells no brand-name items. The store’s "dry goods — rice, cereal, spices — are stored in large dispenser bins, and customers fill containers they have either brought with them or purchased in the store. Liquid goods, such as juice or yogurt, are sold in jars or bottles with a deposit on them."

Most of the store’s "products are organic" with origins noted. The assortment is a little bit quirky: "As yet there’s no meat or cheese (problems working out a packaging-free system for these, perhaps?), but you can get chewable toothpaste tablets … On the plus side, the brand-free policy doesn’t seem to have led to only single, generic choices being offered; the store generally stocks several types of everything they sell. If customers shop regularly, then the potential to cut the amount of packaging they … throw in the trash … is vast."

The absence of brands and packaging also apparently helps "avoid the risk with projects of this type" — the associated cost reductions address the traditional high-cost of organic goods. Indeed, "many or most of Original Unverpackt’s products cost a little less than they would at the average German grocery store." In addition, "the bring-your-own-containers system is also likely to induce … customer loyalty," given that shoppers may be more likely to return once they’ve invested in "a set of appropriately sized Tupperware."

What If?

what-if"Trying to answer a stupid question thoroughly can take you to some pretty interesting places," writes Randall Munroe in What If?, reviewed by Steven Poole in The Wall Street Journal (9/20/14). His book was inspired "by apparently ridiculous questions sent by readers" of his website, xkcd. For example: "What would happen if you tried to fly an electrically powered airplane on Venus?" Answer: "Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time … Venus is a terrible place."

Or: How heavy would a mole ("a unit of measure in chemistry") weigh if it were made of up moles (the animal)? Answer: It would "be about as heavy as a planet." "The mole planet," Randall writes, "would be a giant sphere of meat." To the question of "what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball that was moving at 90% of the speed of light," Randall replies: "I sat down with some physics books, a Nolan Ryan action figure, and a bunch of videotapes of nuclear tests." In other words: Ka-Boom!

The point of such estimates is to help "get a handle on a problem" by "reasoning from first principles: work by analogy, perform very rough orders-of-magnitude calculations, or try to flip perspectives." This is often otherwise known as "blue-sky research … Yet even the most bizarre examples teach us something surprising about the fragility of human life, or the astounding variety of the intellectual tools that humanity has devised or just the sheer amazingness of the universe."

Credit Worthy

sharon-loveHow shoppers pay is the inflection point of a connected retail experience. A Hub White Paper by Sharon Love of TPN. The phrase ‘brick-and-mortar’ came into the lexicon in late 1999 and early 2000, duringthe first Internet bubble. In some camps, it came across as a bit of a put down. "Oh, they are just a brick-and-mortar play." There was an outcry from young businesspeople at the time — why did these companies need actual buildings or production facilities to drive commerce? They believed that the sustainable business model of the future was pure-play digital. We now know that the answer isn’t that black-and-white.

Clearly the brick-and-mortar model continues to have a significant role in driving sizable sales. It has not gone away. The term, however, has spawned many more iterations to account for different types of business models and trends — bricks-and-clicks, site-to-store, showrooming and now, webrooming. These models are built on the need to infuse traditional shopping with digital solutions that meet the expectations of today’s shopper, and also more recently evolved buying experiences. Those expectations have been shaped, in large part, by Amazon, the company that, at least until recently, never entertained the idea of having a brick-and-mortar presence. Drones, sure, but not a physical store. Read The Rest of The White Paper.

Panorama Surveys

A pair of young Yale graduates is taking an Uber-esque approach to the educational experience, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (9/3/14). Like Uber, Panorama is "using unconventional methods of tech start-ups to reinvent industries that have long been seen as tech backwaters." In this case, they are collecting and analyzing "large troves of data" to help "address problems in American education" — specifically teacher performance. Basically, Panorama has come up with a new way to capture student evaluations.

"Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means," says Panorama co-founder Aaron Feuer. "Five years ago we thought test scores were the answer to everything. We’re offering a way to focus on the right metrics." While conducting student surveys is not a new idea, Panorama has made "its surveys more widely accessible than older educational surveys" via "its own scanning system" and "says its surveys and analytics services are about half the price of older survey methods."

Panorama has also developed an analytics dashboard that makes it easy for teachers to access results. Leila Campbell, a young high-school teacher, says Panorama "has been transformational" for her. Even though her students’ test scores were good, students said she wasn’t connecting with them. So, she says she now opens up to them with stories about the vulnerabilities she felt as a college student, and explains why she’s working with them. "They start to get me as a human being," she says. "And they’re willing to follow me when I push them harder." Panorama currently runs its surveys in more than 5,000 schools.