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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.

Zippo Marks

Zippo is doing better than ever even though the number of US smokers is half what it was in the 1950s, reports Abram Brown in Forbes (9/8/14). Last year’s sales topped $200 million, a record. Zippo’s claim to fame is, of course, its innovative and iconic cigarette lighter — developed "with a windproof chimney and a distinctive hinged lid" — in 1932. "After soldiers received the lighters in WWII, Zippo successfully marketed itself with a utilitarian, made-in-America image for the following half century."

Each lighter came with a lifetime guarantee, "meaning Zippo would continue to fix the lighter as long as its owner sent it to the factory." This apparently worked for Frank Sinatra, who "was buried with his trusty Zippo in 1998." It hasn’t worked so well for younger consumers "who were children when Sinatra died." The key to Zippo’s renewed success is largely its positioning "as a maker of talismans, lucky charms — or something akin to customized belt buckles" — and the "30,880 unique designs" it produced last year.

That’s "up from 8.900 a decade ago … partly owing to a new Zippo.com feature where you can design your own lighter from scratch." Zippo has also expanded into China, opening 14 retail stores there, "riding the idea of Zippo as an all-American lifestyle brand. The stores carry a Zippo-designed clothing line." Zippo has two stores in Las Vegas, as well, and has further line-extended into camping gear. "This is just a metal box," says George Duke, Zippo’s third-generation owner, adding: "There’s a lot you can do with a metal box."

Hi-Ho D’Addario

D’Addario succeeds "by experimenting with a commodity good and refining it through small, but significant, innovations," reports Karsten Strauss in Forbes (9/8/14). The commodity is musical instrument strings, which it turns out at a rate of "some 700,000 per day." This "netted an estimated $12 million on $169 million," including other accessories, and growth at a rate averaging "6.2% a year during the past decade." It is a long way from the company’s roots in "17th-century" Italy, and its US entry in 1905.

As recently as the 1950s, Charles D’Addario worked out of his basement in Queens, New York, "where sour-smelling animal intestines stretched on racks were twisted into strings bound for violins, cellos and harps." He’d then sell his wares "out of his car to luthiers and players from Boston to Washington DC … It was Charles’ son, John … who recognized the benefits of synthetic materials, like DuPont’s new creation, nylon, invented in 1935." After Elvis happened, John split off to manufacture steel strings, for the electric guitar.

John’s chief innovation was to make the "string’s steel cores hexagon-shaped instead of cylindrical, which gave the wires wrapped around them something to hold onto, creating a stable string that rang true." John’s son Jim, the current CEO, says automated equipment is critical: "Whenever a major innovation was developed, we would retrofit the entire fleet of machinery," he says. The inherently disposable nature of the strings is another key, because "they wear out and need to be replaced frequently."

Swash Machine

Procter & Gamble hopes consumers will find a place in their closets for a new kind of laundry machine, reports Elizabeth Holmes in The Wall Street Journal (8/13/14). Developed in collaboration with Whirlpool, the machine is called Swash. It stands "more than four feet tall" and "uses gel-filled pods to help neutralize odors, remove wrinkles and restore a garment’s fit." Swash is not intended "to replace laundering or dry cleaning … just delay them." It is aimed at "a new laundry consumer: the re-wearer."

"Today, it’s smart," says Mike Grieff, P&G’s research and development director for new business creation and innovation. "Why would I wash something and go through the process if it’s really, really not that dirty?" Procter & Gamble has been developing against this insight for several years now, initially creating "a line of consumable products, including odor- and wrinkle-removing sprays." These were meant for "college students who didn’t want to do laundry."

The target now is "a higher-spending group of fashion-conscious people" — both men and women. Swash does not come cheap, retailing at $499, plus another $6.99 for the gel pods, each good for one use. Basically, the user hangs a garment inside, which is then sprayed"with a gel-like solution, hydrating the fibers to remove wrinkles and restore fit. Thermal heating technology dries the garment in 10 minutes," which consumers said was about how long it takes to shower. "It’s like a microwave for your clothes," says Mike.

Fox News

nate-silver-foxFoxes are "more wily and flexible learners" than hedgehogs because of their childhoods, reports Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal (8/20/14). The difference between the two animals — whose traits are often ascribed to people — was defined by the Greek poet Archilochus, who said: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." (Archilochus apparently knew one thing but didn’t know how to make it rhyme.) The concept was later popularized by Isaiah Berlin, an Oxford philosopher.

Berlin ultimately decided his observation was oversimplified, but recently, psychologist Philip Tetlock "studied expert political predictions and found that foxy, flexible, pluralistic experts were much more accurate than experts with one big hedgehog idea … In tribute to this finding, the statistics whiz Nate Silver chose a fox as the logo for his website." Biologist David MacDonald, meanwhile, suggests the fox-hedgehog difference is, well, biological: "Hedgehogs develop their spines — that one big thing — almost as soon as they are born."

This makes them independent within six weeks, compared to fox cubs, who "are dependent for six months." Where hedgehog dads take off after mating, fox dads "help bring food to the babies." Not only that, they bring still-alive prey "and the babies play at hunting them." They "practice and develop the flexible hunting skills and wily intelligence that serve them so well later on." So, where hedgehogs quickly adapt to one environment, a combination of parental protection and play teaches them to "cope with a changing world."

Beane’s Genius

oakland-as-capContrary to popular belief, the Oakland A’s success is not because of homegrown players, reports Jared Diamond in The Wall Street Journal (8/20/14). In fact, the "A’s have used just four homegrown players in 2014, the fewest in baseball by a wide margin." By comparison, the languishing New York Mets "have used 21, the third-highest total." Interestingly, both teams have "similar payrolls" — the Mets actually spend a bit more ($85 million) than the A’s ($82.3 million). The difference may be explained by "two central tenets."

The first tenet is general manager Billy Beane‘s legendary "ability to identify (or luck into) cheap, productive players whom his competitors don’t want … No team does a better job of rummaging through everybody else’s attic and discovering gold." The other is Billy’s "commitment to financial flexibility," which enables him to "constantly tinker with his assets." Unlike the Mets, he doesn’t allocate 23.5% of his budget to a single player (David Wright), much less 49% to three players (David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon).

The A’s highest-paid player at season’s start, Yoenis Cespedes, accounted for just 12.8% of the team’s budget, and its three highest-paid (Yoenis Cespedes, Jim Johnson and Scott Kazmir), "made up 35.8% of the payroll." Yoenis has since been traded. Granted, it may be easier for a smaller-market team like the A’s to avoid employing big stars, but the bottom line is "the A’s are within striking distance of their third consecutive American League West crown," and 8th since 2000, while the Mets haven’t made the playoffs in eight years.

Data Lakes

data-lakeGeneral Electric has added a "data lake" to its information ecosystem, reports Quentin Hardy in The New York Times (8/11/14). A data lake is a "method of analyzing sensor information from industrial machinery in places like railroads, airlines, hospitals and utilities. GE has been putting sensors on everything it could for a couple of years" and is now "working with an outfit called Pivotal" to look "at information from 3.4 million miles of flights by 24 airlines." As a result, "it figured out things like possible defects 2,000 times" faster than before.

GE’s William Ruh says this is only the beginning: "In 10 years, 17 billion pieces of equipment will have sensors," he says. "We’re only one-tenth of the way there." Meanwhile, "billions of humans are already augmenting that number with their own packages of sensors, called smartphones, fitness bands and wearable computers. Almost all of that information will be uploaded someplace, too," creating "a world-changing ecosystem of digital hardware and software spreading into every area of our lives."

The "relentless acquisition and analysis of digital information" might be compared to the advent of the automobile, which "succeeded through the widespread construction of highways and gas stations" and spawned "suburbs, fast food and drive-time talk radio," among other things. Already, the growing data ecosystem is enabling "businesses like Uber and Airbnb" to succeed "without assets like cars and rooms, instead coordinating data streams about the locations of people, cars and bedrooms."

Data Magic

stitch-fixThe magic of the emerging shopping experience — online or off — "comes from the data," reports Molly Wood in The New York Times (8/15/14). For e-commerce enterprises, the data enables a level of personal service that approximates — or potentially improves upon — that which can occur naturally in a store. "In traditional retail, they have the benefit in that they have real people who in theory could offer a very personalized experience," says Katrina Lake, founder of Stitch Fix, an online women’s clothing retailer.

Stitch Fix "sends its customers boxes of clothes picked by a combination of personal stylists and big data." The advantage over, say a mall or a traditional e-commerce play, says Katrina, is that it eliminates the often overwhelming array of choices. Bill Gurley, a Stitch Fix investor, says the data science involved in making this happen is significant. "There’s a 15-page profile, there are over 66 characteristics tracked and there’s a predictive heat score for every single item against every single user."

Birchbox uses a similar approach with beauty products. "We use curation and personalization as a way to make the internet have some of those fun and satisfying elements of shopping," says Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp. "There is still this desire to work with somebody that you trust." Birchbox takes a similar approach at its sole physical store, where Birchbox’s online customers can provide their email address to an employee, who then directs them to relevant items, based on their profile.

Artisan Nest

nestRebecca van Bergen is connecting small-village artisans to the great American marketplace, reports Rachel Felder in The New York Times (8/14/14). Rebecca is founder of Nest — not to be confused with Nest — which "acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields." It has now "created what it dubbed its Artisan Summit," designed to help "indigenous craft artists" market their wares as well as teach big-market retailers how to work with them.

"Nest brought together these artisans because they share the same challenges," says Nest founder Rebecca van Bergen. "One of the largest is how to take largely home workers who have produced for local markets with different standards of quality, and translate that to a fashion industry, particularly a luxury fashion industry, that has very stringent requirements in terms of quality and replicability." It’s an equally interesting challenge for major retailers "as the appeal of such products grows."

Rebecca launched Nest in 2006 by "lending artisans money to produce goods, then selling the products to recoup those loans — but eventually eliminated sales to become a non-profit." Nest has helped produce items such as "Trina Turk glass-beaded necklaces in Tiruchirappalli, India … and handwoven Ikat Feed tote bags in Guatemala City." Rebecca says that bridging developing economies and urban fashion is "strange and surreal," adding: "To see the process from design to rack, I mean, it’s art."

BucketFeet Community

bucketfeetWhere Toms Shoes hopes "to improve lives," BucketFeet is "about building a community," reports Lizette Chapman in The Wall Street Journal (8/14/14). Toms is famous for donating "a pair of its shoes to a person in need every time a customer buys a pair." The BucketFeet idea, meanwhile, is to connect "people around the globe through art. Its flip-flops and sneakers for men, women and children feature designs by more than 5,000 artists worldwide." (images)

"By doubling down on our artist community and the stories they tell, we’re building our brand," says co-founder Raaja Nemani, 32. "Yes, we sell shoes, but we are really about building a community." Launched in 2011 by Raaja and business partner Aaron Firestein with $100,000 in personal savings, BucketFeet today "has 16 full-time employees and has raised nearly $6 million in venture capital." Its footwear is sold nationwide in Nordstrom’s and will soon be available "at select Bloomingdale’s stores" and its website.

Prices range from "$30 for flip-flops to $68 or more for sneakers." Raaja says BucketFeet’s success happened because "we had zero pride in how we did it and focused 100% on how to get in front of people at street fairs, trunk shows and every party we could. We talked about it shamelessly everywhere and messaged every person we knew on Facebook and said, ‘please buy our shoes as a favor to us’." Currently, BucketFeet offers two styles, but plans to have "six or seven by spring of next year."

Cashew Cash

cashew-appleSmall farmers in India are making more cash from cashews thanks to PepsiCo’s thirst for new taste sensations, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (8/9/14). Pepsi’s interest is in cashew apples — the stems typically thrown away when cashew nuts are harvested. The juice of the cashew apple is "tangy and sweet," and PepsiCo thinks it could be the next coconut water. "The cashew apple is exotic and appealing and we think it is a premium product," says Anshul Khanna of PepsiCo India.

The other part of the story is that cashew apples are relatively inexpensive, given that they ferment and rot quickly. "Coconut, pomegranate and lime juices are popular, but affordability is a major issue," says V.D. Sarma, also of PepsiCo India. "So we are always looking out for new juice sources that are locally produced to bring prices down for us and for consumers." Some local cashew farmers found PepsiCo’s interest in cashew apples "a little strange," but tend not to question the incremental revenues from their crops.

PepsiCo discovered cashew apples "in Brazil a few years ago, when Mehmood Khan, its global head of research and development, was working there to get the company’s coconut water business up and running. A local supplier took him to a cashew orchard, where he saw the colorful apples and wondered how they could be used." Plans are to add cashew juice "into a mixed fruit juice drink sold in India under the Tropicana label, replacing more expensive juices like apple, pineapple and banana," and eventually take cashew juice worldwide.

Apple Seeds

apple-seedsAt the core of Apple’s organization is a school that teaches a culture of simplicity, reports Brian X. Chen in The New York Times (8/11/14). Called Apple University, Steve Jobs founded it in 2009 "as a way to inculcate employees into Apple’s business culture and educate them about its history, particularly as the company grew and the tech business changed." As with so many other aspects of Apple’s world, Apple University "is highly secretive and rarely written about."

Mr. Jobs chose "Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management," to design Apple University. Courses include "case studies about important business decisions that Apple made," as well as the best way to share "ideas with peers." As one employee described the Apple communications ideal: "You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do."

To communicate the concept, instructor Randy Nelson uses "a series of 11 lithographs … that Picasso created over about a month in late 1945," in which the artist began with a detailed sketch of a bull, and concluded with "a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull." (link) A course called "What Makes Apple, Apple" features a slide of Google’s 78-button remote control, and then the Apple TV remote (image), with just three — "a button to play and pause a video, a button to select something to watch, and another to go to the main menu."

Yo

yoThe biggest thing since Twitter may be an app so simple that Apple initially rejected it, reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (8/11/14). Called Yo, the app’s "sole function is for a user to send the word ‘Yo’ to any other friend using the app." Apple "rejected it on the grounds that it lacked substance," but then relented, and Yo has "since been downloaded two million times, and its 50,000 or so active users have sent more than four million Yos." The app also now has "$1.5 million in funding."

What makes Yo a potential blockbuster is that it is neither a messaging app nor a social network; it is "a communications protocol," not unlike "text messages, email and Twitter." This is because it "provides any person, business or Web service direct access to the notifications tray of your smartphone … these are the alerts we see on our lock screens, and they also interrupt us whenever we’re doing anything else on our phones." The value is inherent in "how often the average smartphone owner glances at his or her phone."

The opportunity is to use the protocol to send more than just a ‘Yo’ to friend. Future iterations "will let users send a link," too, and an RSS feed, which would enable "every blogger, website and media outlet … to send push notifications." Yo will also enable users to add profile pictures and individual or organizational names. A Yo-specific app store is in the works, and already it is possible to integrate the app with services, such as "one that will let you know whether there is a bike available at a designated Citibike-sharing station in Manhattan … Israelis can also get a Yo whenever rockets are incoming."

Colliding Worlds

colliding-worldsArt and science — "the twin branches of understanding" — "have been coming back together" after drifting apart, reports Jascha Hoffman in a New York Times review of Colliding Worlds, by Arthur I. Miller (8/5/14). You may remember Arthur Miller from his previous book, Einstein, Picasso, which also showed "how the discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a generation of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Kandinsky and Dali," who said he wanted to use "neutrinos … to paint the beauty of angels."

So, this trend dates back to "the dawn of the 20th century" and Arthur has been studying it since the 1980s. He "argues that artists and scientists have always had the same mission: to ‘fathom the reality beyond appearances, the world invisible to our eyes’." His subjects include "Neri Oxman, who is using her knowledge of bone formation to design better buildings from concrete, and David Edwards … who has come up with methods for inhaling food and beverages and transmitting odors using cellphones."

Then there’s "bio-art," or those who use "living tissues as raw material," such as "Stelarc, the Australian artists who coaxed his own cells to grow in the shape of a human ear grafted onto his left arm." In the future, Arthur envisions "working with computers made of not-yet-invented materials" and "producing theories that generate images that can be manipulated like equations." He envisions art that is "sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing, sometimes subversive, sometimes downright crazy, but always interesting."

Origami Robots

paper-airplaneA Harvard graduate student is creating self-folding robots out of origami art, reports Kenneth Chang in The New York Times (8/7/14). Sam Felton says the goal is "to make robots as quickly and cheaply as possible," and suggests that his origami robots (video) might be useful "on future space missions. Or perhaps the technology could one day be applied to Ikea-like furniture, folding from a flat-packed board to, say, a table without anyone fumbling with Allen wrenches or deciphering instructions."

The "paper" for these robots is actually "a flexible circuit board and Shrinky Dinks — plastic sheets, sold as a toy, that shrink when heated above 212 degrees Fahrenheit." The sheet is attached to motors, batteries "and a microcontroller," costing a total of about $100 to build. The process is "simpler and cheaper than the manufacturing process for most machines today … which are made of many separate pieces that are then glued, bolted and snapped together."

Sam must design and fold the robot, "but the hope is that the mathematics of origami will allow computer software to … create complex robots capable of doing almost any task." Origami can also "alter the properties of a material," making it "stiffer or curved or able to swing like a hinge … For example, a folded-up sheet could be unfurled on top of a building, and then made rigid, forming a roof," or possibly "incorporated into the surface of robotic limbs, floppy and flexible when reaching for an object, and then stiffening to pick it up."

By Its Cover

book-coverPeter Mendelsund has designed "about 600 book jackets, but was stumped when it came to designing his own," reports Alexandra Alter in The New York Times (7/29/14). You have likely seen Peter’s work, which includes the cover of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (image) which sold "about 10 million copies." That project involved "nearly 70" drafts, however the book’s publisher believes "the surprisingly cheerful cover probably helped make the novel a blockbuster."

Peter is a former classical pianist who is totally self-taught as a designer, which helps explain his success. "Most designers look for a central image to sum up a book, but Peter isn’t looking for an image, he’s looking for an idea," says author James Gleick. For example, Peter’s design for James’ book, The Information, "repeated the title about 60 times, so that it looks like a flood of code." (image) However, Peter developed a bad case of designer’s block when it came to his own book, What We See When We Read.

His challenge was that the book’s "central thesis is that readers often invent images that the text does not support." Basically, he "tackles the mysterious way text yields vivid mental pictures, even when the author supplies very little visual detail." He had to find "a way to show the feeling of not being able to see something." Ultimately, he landed on "a small reflective gold keyhole" on a "plain black" background. "The keyhole’s metallic finish catches the light, drawing the eye to it like a candle in a dark room." (image)

Lechal Buzz

lechalA new kind of shoe buzzes to let wearers know "where to turn to reach their destination," reports Dhanya Ann Thoppil in The Wall Street Journal (7/26/14). Made by Ducere Technologies, an Indian startup, the Lechal running shoe syncs "with a smartphone app that uses Google Maps and vibrates … in the left or right shoe" to "lead the way." "The shoes are a natural extension of the body," says Ducere co-founder Krispian Lawrence. "You will leave your house without your watch or wristband," he notes, but not your shoes.

Originally, the shoes were intended "to help blind people who rely on walking canes. Canes can help the visually impaired detect obstacles, but they cannot tell them which way to face or when to turn … While testing the shoes, the company realized their potential for the sighted as well. Joggers, mountain bikers or tourists can plug in their destinations and not have to stop to check their phones as they move; they just turn when their shoes buzz. The shoes can also be used to record distances traveled and calories burned."

Lechal means "take me along" in Hindi, the shoes are protected by a total of "24 international and Indian patents." This apparently has something to do with Krispian’s past as a US patent prosecutor. The shoes "will come in red or black" and cost $100 when they go on sale in September. Krispian "says he already has orders for 25,000 pairs and expects to sell 100,000 by March." Runners aside, there are about 250 million visually-impaired people worldwide, with about 90% "in developing countries, including India."

Chat Bots

kikAn old technology is enabling new conversations between brands and consumers, reports Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal (7/28/14). Back in "the mid-1960s, MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum developed a computer program called ELIZA, which could engage in open-ended conversation with a real human being." Over the years, programmers have filled these "chat bots … with knowledge about the real world. They can also learn from their conversations," and can sound fairly intelligent.

The potential for brands is palpable. "If you could chat with a brand in the same way you chat with a friend, that’s powerful," says Ted Livingston, founder of Kik, a chat service. It is even more tantalizing given Ted’s assertion "that four in 10 US teens are active users of its service" and already "are having something like actual conversations with a half-dozen brands." For example, while touring Japan last fall, teen idol Paul McCartney used a Kik competitor called Line to "chat" with followers.

For perspective, Sir Paul has some 2 million Twitter followers, and 9.3 million Line followers. For the most part, the McCartney organization used the bot simply to send updates. Some brands remain skittish about the bots because they are still relatively primitive and if turned loose might say something wrong. However, some see chat bots as a possible customer-service tool, while others envision using them for new product launches, imbuing the brands with a distinctive voice and personality.

UsTwo

ustwoToph Brown is creating an app that gives travelers a virtual companion when they are traveling alone, reports Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (7/14/14). The app was inspired by Toph’s conversations with "people on the streets of San Francisco what might most improve their travels." "People said they feel like cattle when they are away from home, they want to be connected," says Toph, of London-based UsTwo Studio Ltd. So, he came up with an app that lets travelers pick one person to track their journey, not unlike a FedEx package.

For example, the app will alert the designated follower — "a spouse, friend, colleague or administrative assistant" — as the traveler "passes beacons installed at airports." The follower is also notified when the traveler clears security and other key points. It’s also possible for the follower to "access menus of food for purchase on the flight and purchase a drink or sandwich as a gift." The app also prompts the traveler with gate information and "can pop up a boarding pass bar code" at the gate.

"The goal of our app is to string a light tether between two people when they travel," says Toph. The app is one of a handful resulting from a ‘hack-a-thon’ sponsored by American Airlines to develop new tools to improve the travel experience. Rick Elieson, vp of global partner marketing for American, says the app could be particularly useful for tracking unaccompanied minors or elderly flyers. American plans to continue to work with Toph to develop the app further.