The Hub Cool News

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.


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."


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.

Parchment Rankings

Students tend to prefer colleges with a specific mission or personality versus those without, reports Neil Irwin in The New York Times (9/4/14). A company called Parchment, which "processes transcripts for students applying to college," analyzed the choices "students made when they were admitted to more than one university." While well-known schools such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard topped the list, some relatively obscure schools outperformed traditional rankings based purely on "selectivity, test scores and so forth."

For example, Harvey Mudd College "is the No 10 ranked liberal arts college in Parchment’s latest rankings, compared to No. 16 in the US News rankings." It attracted students like David Tenorio, whose other choices included Harvard and Northwestern, because of its "mix of a demanding technical education" and "a less cutthroat feel than some bigger schools and a greater sense of fun." Thyra Briggs, Mudd’s vp of admissions, says because the school hammers home its mission, it has "an incredibly self-selecting applicant pool."

Mudd is kind of like one of the "funky boutiques that appeal to a particular type of customer" compared to national universities that "are essentially the department stores of higher education." Schools like Brigham Young, because of its "religious thrust" and those with a narrow focus, like Rhode Island School of Design, also tend to be top choices. Berea College, whose focus is on educating students from poverty, is also popular. Will Bowling, a freshman, says he was attracted to an atmosphere of "kindness" that he says is "hard to find."

Seuss Juice

A marketing machine keeps the Dr. Seuss brand alive and well 23 years after his death, reports Anna Russell in The Wall Street Journal (8/29/14). This is actually a fitting legacy for Theodor Seuss Geisel, who got his start in advertising but made his name writing "The Cat in the Hat" and 43 other children’s book classics. All told, Seuss has sold about 600 million books "in 17 languages and 95 countries." Last year alone, Seuss sales "climbed to 4.8 million units in the US … up from 3.2 million in 2010."

His 93-year-old widow, Audrey, as head of Seuss Enterprises, works with a licensing and marketing specialist to coordinate an annual calendar of promotions with Random House, publisher of the Seuss series. This begins on March 2nd, the author’s birth date, which the National Education Association (NEA) also celebrates as "Read Across America" day in his honor. "This year, the NEA purchased an estimated 36,000 discounted Seuss books" for distribution through First Book, which provides books and other resources to "kids in need."

Earth Day is pegged to Dr. Seuss’s environmentalist manifesto, The Lorax. In May and June — graduation time — the focus shifts to "Oh the Places You’ll Go!" and the year wraps up with "How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" Random House also looks for timely tie-ins, such as making Horton ("a person’s a person no matter how small") The Elephant a mascot for anti-bullying. Meanwhile, to keep the catalog fresh, the publisher is releasing a new book of some of Dr. Seuss’ earliest stories, originally written for magazines.

Graduate Hotels

graduate-hotelA new hotel chain offers "guests a chance to re-live the college experience," reports Craig Karmin in The Wall Street Journal (8/27/14). Graduate Hotels "is targeting college towns across the US." They "won’t resemble beer-soaked fraternity houses or impersonal dormitories" but they hope to "appeal to folks coming back to college to watch sporting events, attend reunions or show the campus to their children." The chain is believed to be the first "to target exclusively college areas."

Each hotel "will have a bar and restaurant, locally inspired art collections and 100 to 150 rooms with handcrafted items and rates slightly above the area’s limited-service hotels," which typically include Hilton and Marriott. "These towns are seeing a renaissance," says Christian Strobel of Graduate Hotels. "They are often state capitals or cultural hubs for a state, and they attract entrepreneurial companies by offering an alternative to big cities." Graduate also hopes to cater to "people doing business with the universities or with other firms in town."

In Athens, Georgia, the Graduate Hotel "will include vintage ceramic lamps in the shape of the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot, while album covers from REM and the B-52s, bands that got their start in the southern town, will adorn the walls. So will photos of Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, who studied agriculture at the school. The Tempe, Arizona, hotel "will feature an ant farm behind the front desk, a nod to Arizona State’s popular social insects department." Plans are "to open 20 of these hotels over the next five years."

10 Songs

In his latest book, Greil Marcus distills the history of rock ‘n’ roll into just 10 songs, reports Wesley Stace in The Wall Street Journal (8/23/14). In part, Greil picks his list based on certain themes, like "escape," that are particular to rock ‘n’ roll. But the overarching idea "is how different artists cover, and re-discover, one another’s work." For example, In the Still of the Night, by the Five Satins, "has hit the Billboard charts in four different decades." Phil Spector’s To Know Him to Love Him was written for the Teddy Bears and covered by Amy Winehouse, among others.

In addition to those two songs, Greil’s ten songs are: Shake Some Action; Transmission; All I Could Do Was Cry; Crying, Waiting, Hoping; Money (That’s What I Want); Money Changes Everything; This Magic Moment; and Guitar Drag. Chances are you don’t know at least some of these works, and note that none was written by Bob Dylan or The Beatles. However, Greil circles "back to the big guns," noting, for example, that the Beatles don’t cover Buddy Holly so much as they conduct "a kind of séance with him."

Greil also connects Ben E. King’s rendition of This Magic Moment to "Rabbit Brown, serenading sweethearts on Lake Pontchartrain in 1927" and back again to Lou Reed‘s performance of the song in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The connection between cinema and rock ‘n’ roll is also explored, suggesting that "the screen, silver or small, is where rock really happens." And he quotes Bob Dylan’s observation about Like A Rolling Stone: "a ghost is writing a song like that, it gives you the song and it goes away."

20 Cellos

Maya Beiser channels Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and others through her cello, reports Corinne Ramey in The Wall Street Journal (8/26/14). Her idea is to play their “voice.” With Kurt Kobain, for instance, Maya produces a “grimy, fuzzy howl.” “His voice is raspy and out of tune and not clean,” says Maya. Getting at that “is about … diving into that world.” Similarly, Jimi Hendrix’s solo on Little Wing is “so out of tune … You have to learn to bend and sort of be around the note.”

“All of this insane perfectionism that we’re taught, none of that exists in rock,” says Maya, who says her revelation came as a teenager, hearing Janis Joplin sing. “It was this revelation, that someone can be so raw and give it all,” she says. Her new record, Uncovered, layers “as many as 20 cello tracks on top of one another,” turning “one acoustic cello into a rock band.” Maya also detunes the cello and uses “certain kinds of plucking to create a rock-band palette of sounds.”

Arranged in collaboration with composer and professor Evan Ziporyn of MIT, the songs are reduced “down to their essence, to expose this really beautiful thing,” says Evan. “It’s too perfect if you just imitate,” he says. Maya says the result is not ‘pop,’ which she defines as “formulaic” and “makes lots and lots of money.” “Every artist on this album is anything but formulaic,” she says. “I think this music is just as valuable and important as Bach and Schubert.” She explains and demonstrates further here.