quickies posts

ChittahChattah Quickies February 23rd, 2012

Why You’re Doing Customer Research All Wrong [Inc.] – It comes as no surprise that many innovative ideas hit the cutting room floor before ever seeing the light of day in consumer testing. The author suggests that too many great ideas don’t get chosen for testing and this is where the problem lies. While I agree that this is a grave problem for customer research, it’s not nearly as reprehensible¬†as the omission of consumers from ideation sessions, and the failure to converge in the ideation process. In fact, I’d argue that the problem could be averted with two steps upstream in this process. First, start with the end in mind when planning a brainstorming session and invite customers and executives to help generate stakeholder-inspired ideas. Secondly, make sure those ideas get clustered and prioritized before anyone leaves the room. Ideation should include both divergent and convergent thinking!¬† This results in more collaborative value-added ideas and less ‘intuitive’ choices about which ones merit further testing.

Affinnova studied 100 testing campaigns that its clients had done in the past. Typically the testing process went like this: A company came up with a long list of potential ideas to test, whittled it down using mostly executives’ intuition, and then tested the much shorter list of ideas. Affinnova, on the other hand, took the initial brainstorming list and tested everything on it, presenting the ideas in groups and asking participants to select their favorites.

Looking To Hire And Keep Great Innovators? Focus On The 3 Rs [Co.Design] – When companies look inward in a quest for amping up their innovation capabilities, they undoubtedly see the potential of their human resources. The three Rs of getting and keeping innovative employees are Recruiting, Retraining and Rewarding. Given the very premise of the article a fourth R, Reflection, seems mighty important. While the ROI (yikes, another R word!) of a strategic debrief may be hard to justify in some cases, the cost of ignoring valuable lessons learned from experience can be catastrophic. Consider how many times companies learn the same lessons over and over again. It’s Ridiculous. Besides, a healthy organization that engages its employees in regular reflection is likely to keep those folks feeling engaged, valued and loyal, thereby reducing the need to look outside for more innovators.

Innovation relies on people more than other processes. This reliance on employees, management, and executives in an organization requires that the “right” people are attracted, and then given the appropriate tools and techniques for a sustained innovation success. Their passions and capabilities also must be ensured to align with the needs and expectations of the firm.

Building Self-Control, the American Way [New York Times] - Although this article is focused on parenting strategies for cultivating self-discipline, I think the lessons can be applied to nurturing innovative thinkers. This article talks about the importance of play in allowing children to practice and develop skills like self-control, self-esteem and social interaction. Companies who rely on their people to continually generate creative ideas should explore opportunities for productive play experiences that challenge and nurture their employees’ essential abilities to manage themselves through intrinsic motivation.

Fortunately for American parents, psychologists find that children can learn self-control without externally imposed pressure. Behavior is powerfully shaped not only by parents or teachers but also by children themselves. The key is to harness the child’s own drives for play, social interaction and other rewards. Enjoyable activities elicit dopamine release to enhance learning, while reducing the secretion of stress hormones, which can impede learning and increase anxiety, sometimes for years.

 

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 17th, 2012

Dry your eyes with an eBay for the broken-hearted [Telegraph] – There’s an interesting idea here; I’m not sure exactly why this sort of items deserve their own ecommerce site; is the narrative sufficiently appealing for buyers and sellers to replace an established player like eBay? I’d suggest they get their story straight, the site says “Never Liked It Anyway is a place where once loved gifts from once loved partners get a second chance.” If the gifts were indeed once-loved then the site’s title is not very accurate. Or maybe this is something I’d have to be a woman to understand.

The bride ditched at the altar hardly wants to save her wedding dress for a later date, while angry ex-wives are unlikely to keep the diamond earrings from a cheating husband. How about selling off those expensive gifts? A new website, NeverLikedItAnyway.com, is helping dumped girlfriends and jilted brides get emotional closure – and a bit of cash to ease their heartbreak. The global site, set up by New York business consultant Annabel Acton, 28, is an eBay for the broken-hearted. Users upload an image, description and “break-up price” for their item, as well as a sob story of how they came to be getting shot of it online. From engagement rings and wedding dresses to the detritus of a cancelled wedding day, spurned women are flocking to sell their unwanted goods.

Find puppy love (cats too) through Meet Your Match [AP] – As Internet dating tips fully from losers-last-refuge to lovers-log-on, it becomes a metaphor, albeit a tortured one, for other types of services. Weren’t we screening for a good match in adopting pets a long time ago? Sounds like they have streamlined the approach, but the idea is probably strong enough to stand on its own without leveraging online dating. Although maybe that’s the journalist looking for a V-Day angle?

Meet Your Match was designed by Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Potential adopters answer 19 questions on subjects such as whether they want a playful or laid-back pet, how their animal will spend its days and how they will spend together time with their new dog or cat. For the pet evaluation, animals are put in a room in front of a camera. Staff members watch how quickly they settle, lie down, curl up and what else they choose to do. They watch the animals play and interact. People and pets are assigned a color – green, orange or purple – and one of three categories in each color category.

Dogs are watched for friendliness, playfulness, energy level, motivation and drive. A dog might be a laid-back couch potato, a curious busy bee or an action hero go-getter, Weiss said. Green is for dogs who like to be physically and mentally engaged, orange for middle-of-the-road dogs who enjoy regular activity and interaction, and purple for dogs who are easygoing, Cats who test green thrive on adventurous, carnival-style living. Orange is for go-with-the-flow pets, while purples require a less exciting, library-like home where they can be nothing more than a love bug, Weiss explained.

Merope Lolis tested at the ASPCA’s Adoption Center as a good fit for a purple love bug – a cat that would be on its own much of the day. But she fell in love with a beautiful calico cat before realizing that it was a “frisky cat who was going to need lots of attention when I wasn’t available. I found that information to be very useful to me,” Lolis said.

Jevons paradox [Wikipedia] – These counter-intuitive principles are handy to collect as frequent reminders that the world is a complex system of complex systems, and our presumptions about interventions leading to predictable outcomes are hopelessly naive.

The proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 10th, 2012

Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing? [HBR Blog Network] – Innovation is about the new. It begins with new thinking and typically involves learning new things and being exposed to new ideas. Through our self-funded study, the Omni project, we describe this challenge to keep up with the pace of possibilities in the Transformations theme. Here the author suggests three “habits of mind” (diverse sources of¬† inspiration, copy success from other industries, and collaboration) that promise to keep you learning as fast as the world is changing.

Today, the challenge for leaders at every level is no longer just to out-hustle, out-muscle, and out-maneuver the competition. It is to out-think the competition in ways big and small, to develop a unique point of view about the future and help your organization get there before anyone else does. Which is why a defining challenge of leadership is whether you can answer a question that is as simple as it is powerful: Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

The human factor in service design [McKinsey Quarterly] – The¬†customer service landscape is continually evolving and responding to the winds of technological change and floods of social media. Here, three company stories illustrate different ways to think about the human side of service interaction.¬†The article suggests that you ask yourself three questions to diagnose opportunities for improvement: How human is your service? How economic is your service? Can your people scale it up? The only question I’d add is: How do you know? since this line of inquiry into the design of services is fueled by research with humans both inside and outside the organization.

When putting together services that are economically attractive and grounded in a good understanding of what motivates customers, companies shouldn’t overlook their own employees-the other human beings involved in a transaction. Companies give themselves a big edge when they design service processes that a widely distributed workforce can easily adopt, understand, automate, and execute.

Let’s Debunk 4 Myths About How Great Companies Innovate [Co.Design] – This “mythbusting” article delivers a punchy dose that dispels any notion that innovative companies are fueled solely by visionary leaders, industry competition, market mimicking, and luck. It appears that we have no excuse not to innovate.

A growing base of consumers with new expectations and new demands only fuels the fire for more products and services. Firms that claim to be fast followers are often merely just followers. As a firm grows and matures, its bureaucracy, decisions, and approvals inhibit its ability to bring a new product to market quickly. The company can’t respond fast enough to innovators or consumer demands. In this period of rapid change and global competition, innovation isn’t a “nice to have” but an important core competence; those firms that can’t keep up will inevitably perish.

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Omni Quickies January 25th, 2012
Part 17 of 19 in the series the Omni project

Not Quite Smart Enough [NYT] – Smart appliances are back, yet again! Engineers are crammed atop happily dumb products because, well, because they can. The classic of course is the Smart Fridge, the result of jetpack-denied technologists channeling their rage. We’ve heard the use cases over and over again, we aren’t that interested (are we?) but comically, that doesn’t seem to stop them. From past work, I believe there some wonderful opportunities for technology to have a meaningful impact in domestic chores, but this repetition of an undesirable product just isn’t it. Bonus funny/sad: Mike Kuniavsky’s 2008 blog post looks at the history of these ridiculous things. /SP

Still, there are differences in what is offered this time around – especially in the role of smartphones, which were not widely on the market a decade ago. In addition, even if the idea of a connected home, controlled by a smart electrical grid, is years off, it is more than just a pipe dream. For now, though, manufacturers are promoting the high-tech gizmos on their smart appliances, rather than focusing on the potential for being a cog in a smart grid. Samsung offers a French-door refrigerator with an LCD screen and its own apps, allowing consumers to check the weather, browse the Web for recipes, listen to music and keep tabs on what is in the refrigerator. The 28-cubic feet, four-door refrigerator costs about $3,500. LG is introducing a refrigerator that allows consumers to scan a grocery receipt with their smartphone so that the refrigerator can track what is inside. So if you buy some chicken, for instance, the refrigerator will keep tabs on when you bought it and tell you when it is about to expire. If you have chicken, broccoli and lemons in your refrigerator, it will offer recipes that include those three ingredients, even narrowing recipes based on specific dietary needs and goals. Several manufacturers are introducing washers and dryers equipped with Wi-Fi that alert consumers on their television or smartphone when a load is done, and gives them the option of fluffing towels for another 10 minutes or adding a rinse cycle. LG’s robotic smart vacuum can be told, again, through a smartphone, to clean up the living room. And since it’s equipped with a built-in camera, its owner can secretly watch what the nanny is doing, too.

Tenured Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – Last week we explored the innovative physical learning environment at the Swedish Vittra school. This week we learn that the future of educational institutions may involve abandoning the halls of the academy entirely in favor of virtual pedagogy and entrepreneurial ventures. Is the university destined for obsolescence? Freelance online classes challenge the value proposition (and often prohibitive cost) of a university degree by offering affordable alternatives that connect teachers who are motivated to share knowledge with students who are eager to learn and apply it, regardless of location. This reminds me of a recent Kickstarter project I funded called Don’t Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything. For $25 I am getting a whole course and textbook on independent learning. Bargain! /TC

During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than “a camera, a pen and a napkin.” Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course’s popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

Interactive film, Bear 71, blurs lines between wild and wired [Montreal Gazette] – News articles on this work, currently showing at Sundance, have difficulty classifying it. Is it a film? A documentary? An interactive experience? Multi-media project? All-encompassing digital experience? An interactive film? Akin to Steve’s comments on smart-appliances above, the interactive multi-media experience has also been around for awhile – remember ye olde CD-ROM? This project, however, is doing more than just using technology to give viewers some ownership and direction in the story-telling. The film-makers seem very tuned in to the philosophical implications of inserting all this technology into a very natural environment, and conscious of the irony of their ambition to use technology to bring us closer to our animal state, despite their claims that technology is the very thing drawing us away from that state. Bear 71 official site. /JN

Enter Jeremy Mendes, a Vancouver-based artist and three-time Webby Award winner with a special talent for interactive work. “I drove out to Alberta and met Leanne [Allison], and when I saw these images, I knew right away that it was bizarre: It was surveillance equipment, essentially. These are the same cameras we use on ourselves. They’re the same cameras in Times Square and 7-11,” says Mendes. “I thought, ‘This is a technology story about us and this bear.’” “We prepared an outline and did all the research, and realized this was a story about communication. It’s about the communication humans use, and the communication animals use,” says Mendes… Call it the natural bulletin board, or deciduous Internet, but the scents tell each animal’s story to other animals – very much the same way we use Facebook of Twitter to keep tabs on other humans. “Humans probably had the same ability to understand that information before technology removed us from the natural world,” says Allison…It’s such a different approach to filmmaking and art, that it may take a while for the average Joe or Jane to take it all in, but that’s kind of the point: We’re only half-awake to our animal nature, and all our ambient technology only serves to shove us deeper and deeper into a state of instinct denial.

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ChittahChattah Quickies January 23rd, 2012

Teenagers Sharing Passwords as Show of Affection [NYTimes] – Can you believe it’s been 17 years since Seinfeld considered the shareability of an ATM password within a relationship? Now we have more passwords controlling more access to more parts of our lives, so the issue is just that much more pressing.

The digital era has given rise to a more intimate custom. It has become fashionable for young people to express their affection for each other by sharing their passwords to e-mail, Facebook and other accounts. Boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes even create identical passwords, and let each other read their private e-mails and texts. They say they know such digital entanglements are risky, because a souring relationship can lead to people using online secrets against each other. But that, they say, is part of what makes the symbolism of the shared password so powerful.

Waterstones drops its apostrophe [Telegraph] – The justification of digitalization is a curious one. Since I have no attachment to the brand, personally, I like the new name’s evocation of rocks just below the surface of a flowing brook, rather than the possessive-of-someone-with-a-classic-British-name seen in the previous version.

The country’s last remaining national chain of bookshops, founded by Tim Waterstone, has decided it is more “practical” to ditch the apostrophe. James Daunt, the managing director, who took over the chain last year following a change of ownership said: “Waterstones without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and email addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling.” One customer on Twitter responded: “Wish I’d used that in spelling tests …”. Others used the hashtag #isnothingsacred, while another tweeted that it was another step towards apostrophe extinction. John Richards, the chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society said: “It’s just plain wrong. It’s grammatically incorrect. If Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s can get it right, then why can’t Waterstones. You would really hope that a bookshop is the last place to be so slapdash with English.”

At Bank of America, the Image Officer Has a Lot to Fix [NYTimes] – Buried in a hagiographic profile (that, given the subject matter, might have been just a tad more circumspect) is this familiar bit of corporate speak about what people do and don’t want and what they do and don’t say they want.

Ms. Finucane jumped to Hill Holiday, a Boston advertising agency, where she developed a flair for marketing. At one point, the agency conducted a study for Hyatt Hotels, aiming to distinguish between what customers said they wanted and what they really wanted.The lesson, Ms. Finucane recalls, was this: Customers don’t always know what they want. “You may say you want a bathrobe and slippers,” she says, “but the truth is you really want a telephone in the bathroom.”

Dating service connects people over their leftovers [Wired] – This little story is actually a leftover itself, from some of Julie’s scouring-the-web-for-curiosities. Might make more sense to pair up people with extra food and people with not enough food, rather than try to force a romantic connection into the mix. I guess that’s what sells, though.

Farmers cooperative Lantmännen has developed a dating tool that connects singles based on what food they have leftover in their fridges. It might not sound like the level of psychometric filtering touted by other dating websites, but Lantmännen aims to pair up fellow environmentally-conscious single people to share leftover dishes or ingredients. According to Lantmannen, a fifth of all food in Sweden is thrown away. It was this figure that led to the creation of the dating service, called Restdejting. People are invited to visit the website and enter up to five ingredients that they have hanging around the kitchen. This list is then published to Facebook for other Restdejting singles to peruse.

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ChittahChattah Quickies January 11th, 2012

Multi-platform rapport [The Art and Craft of User Research Interviewing] – A little story (on my book blog) about an amusing challenge in leading an interview just the other day.

And this is where I caught myself flicking my eye contact between the two, as a way to (I guess – it was an automatic gesture) demonstrate interest and maintain engagement. Except one person was on the phone. Yes, I was looking back and forth between the guy in the room and the phone. I was projecting all of my rapport building onto a device, using eye contact only. Needless to say this wasn’t very effective!

Microsoft Patents ‘Avoid Ghetto’ Feature For GPS Devices [CBS Seattle] – Oh, media. How you love to incite and to create a crisis where there isn’t one. Ghetto must be a hot-button word, so even though it’s not exactly accurate, let’s go for it. The fact is we are continually adding more context to our digital interactions (only yesterday, Google announced its plans to include your social network in your searchers), and these are obviously creating new challenges around privacy, but this isn’t much less inflammatory than the Siri won’t find abortion clinics non-story.

A GPS device is used to find shortcuts and avoid traffic, but Microsoft’s patent states that a route can be plotted for pedestrians to avoid an “unsafe neighborhood or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures.” Created for mobile phones, the technology uses the latest crime statistics and weather data and includes them when calculating a route.

For some consumers, surveys breed feedback fatigue [AP] – Ironically, an article about quantitative data collecting that suggests we’re experiencing more of something, without any actual numbers to back up their claim. This is an area we’ve done some user research in, and while we didn’t necessarily see fatigue, we did observe a consistent presence of review mechanisms (both creating and consuming) in daily consumption.

While market-research polls have been conducted for decades, customer-satisfaction surveys have proliferated in recent years because of technology, a growing emphasis on getting data to shape decisions and measure results, and a drive to hold onto customers in a difficult economy, experts say. “People care much more about what the customers think today,” said Brian Koma, VP of research at Vovici, firm that conducts surveys and helps businesses integrate the results with views customers express online, in phone calls and elsewhere. There’s no scientific measure of the number of customer-feedback requests, but questionnaires have percolated into such professional settings as law firms and doctor’s offices and become de rigeur for even everyday purchases.

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ChittahChattah Quickies January 9th, 2012

The Philosophy of Food Project [University of North Texas] – Food is definitely delightfully deep. This ambitious project covers such ground as Food Metaphysics, Gustatory Aesthetics and Food Identity. Rich fare. For a little mental sorbet, watch a meditative video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger included on their Links page. Sit back, relax, and ponder the meaning of flat meats and reluctant ketchup.

The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating. The role of philosophy is to cut through the morass of contingent facts and conceptual muddle to tackle the most basic questions about food: What is it exactly? How do we know it is safe? What should we eat? How should food be distributed? What is good food? These are simple yet difficult questions because they involve philosophical questions about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Other disciplinary approaches may touch on these questions concerning food but only philosophy addresses them explicitly.

Airline lets passengers choose seat partners based on social media profiles [Springwise] – A clever concept at first glance, and certainly a perfectly understandable, some might even say natural use of social media, right? But I question the utility here, and the ability to produce repeatable positive experiences in real life. Do they realize that on airplanes you are stuck next to that person for the next x-amount of hours? The mind reels with potential horror stories. I for one still want some part of IRL to be uninfluenced by social media. Maybe that’s particularly so for me, as a middle-aged presumed-introvert. I dunno… do others have a different response to this?

KLM are reportedly developing a similar service to enable passengers to choose who they sit next to on their flight. However, unlike MHBuddy, which operates solely through Facebook, KLM’s new Meet and Seat service will enable passengers to access their fellow travelers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. The Meet and Seat service will allow passengers to choose their in-flight neighbors based on their occupation, mutual interests and appearance. By connecting to LinkedIn and Facebook during online check-in, passengers will be able to pick their ideal seat buddy, although both parties will have to choose to participate in the service. KLM believe it will provide an opportunity for networking, though other reports suggest it’s more likely to be used as a matchmaking tool.

The Art of Video Games [Smithsonian] – I am seriously tempted to make a trip to DC to see this exhibit. It takes an art historical approach, considering the video game as a serious art form in it’s own right, both reflecting our culture and in many senses, helping to shape it.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers…Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative art. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types. The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage.

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ChittahChattah Quickies January 4th, 2012

Frozen Dead Guy Days, a Festival in Colorado, Stays Put [NYT] – Perhaps Burning Man is now the most famous of a group ritual that evolved to celebrate something other than what it originally intended. Excluding, of course, organized religion. Looking at the irony (or cynicism) that so clearly is at root of this shindig makes me wonder about how extensively meaning can shift over time.

It was probably not, in the end, an idea with huge franchise potential or a killer smartphone app in its future. After all, a gleefully macabre weekend celebration built around a frozen corpse – complete with coffin races, tours of the shed where the body is kept on ice and, of course, lots of beer – just might not be as fun beyond the skewed sensibility of Colorado’s hippie-tinged mountain belt. But now it’s official: Frozen Dead Guy Days are staying put in the small town of Nederland, about an hour northwest of Denver, as are the mortal remains of one Bredo Morstoel, a Norwegian man whose strange and unlikely saga in death – and long-term storage – inspired the whole thing. The Nederland Area Chamber of Commerce put the rights to the festival up for sale last June, saying it could no longer manage Frozen Dead Guy Days, which had grown rapidly through 10 years of icy, late-winter mayhem and was attracting upward of 20,000 revelers over the course of a weekend in a community of about 1,500.

Smell-designing Sheffield [Edible Geography] – A long and fascinating interview about smellwalks, smellscapes, and other funny words that are about exploring our sensory experiences in spaces. Brilliant! When is the Pacifica smellwalk happening?

There were a lot of people who said they didn’t like the smell of fish. But Doncaster is famous for its fish market, and when we went into the fish market on the walk, even those people who said that they didn’t like the smell of fish actually enjoyed it when they experienced it within the context of the market. They expected to smell fish there – it’s a fish market, so how else would it smell? – and it enhanced their experience of the market. In a vacuum, people say that they like and don’t like particular smells, but it turns out that they can enjoy all kinds of odours as long as they experience them in the right context. As designers, that’s quite an important point for us to note. It would be easy for us to say that because our surveys have said that people like smell A but they don’t like that smell B, therefore we’re going to design out smell B and introduce smell A everywhere. But people can enjoy a smell that they say they don’t like when it enhances their place experience.

Starbucks Frappuccino Bottles as Firebomber’s Tool [NYT] – Kind of a non-story when you go past the headline, but the notion of unintended uses for products is always fascinating. Sometimes that leads to innovation, sometimes that leads to a brand nightmare, I suppose sometimes it leads to both.

Mason jelly jars, whiskey quarts, wine and beer bottles – all have been among history’s vessels of choice for a homemade gasoline bomb. Now, a less likely vehicle has come forth: the dainty, 9.5-ounce glass container used by Starbucks to house its popular Frappuccino drinks. Investigators believe that in a rash of firebombings Sunday near the Queens-Nassau border, a Frappuccino bottle was the incendiary component of choice in most of the attacks.

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ChittahChattah Quickies December 30th, 2011

Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours [BBC News] – Technology changes work boundaries and work patterns. Will a technological solution work? The article suggests that they will stop people from receiving email after hours, but will they stop people from sending email after hours? Is the demand for after hours work coming through the email messages or are there other pressures? So many questions about this one!

Volkswagen has agreed to stop its Blackberry servers sending emails to some of its employees when they are off-shift. The carmaker confirmed it made the move earlier this year following complaints that staff’s work and home lives were becoming blurred. Under the arrangement servers stop routing emails 30 minutes after the end of employees’ shifts, and then start again 30 minutes before they return to work. “It’s bad for the individual worker’s performance being online and available 24-7. You do need downtime, you do need periods in which you can actually reflect on something without needing instantaneously to give a reaction,” said Will Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre at The Work Foundation.

Manischewitz Creates Kosher Food for Gentiles [NYT] – Having grown up with the traditional meaning of the brand, I find this a bit challenging but am intrigued by the potential to reframe and expand their story.

“Instead of taking the older products we have out of the kosher aisle and forcing them into the main aisle, we’re creating new products that have a place in the main aisle,” said Alain Bankier. A new line of broths, for example, is being shelved in many supermarkets not with most Manischewitz items but rather in the soup aisle. A new line of Manischewitz gravies also will be stocked with other mainstream brands. Manischewitz ads traditionally have emphasized Judaism, showing yarmulke-wearing celebrants at, say, a Seder. But new ads, by Joseph Jacobs Advertising in New York, the Manischewitz agency for more than three decades, take a decidedly more secular approach. “Don’t miss the boat,” says a print ad for beef gravy, which shows it being poured from a sauce boat onto mashed potatoes – no shofar or Star of David in sight. New ads “make little if any reference to any Jewish holiday,” said Elie Rosenfeld, chief executive of Joseph Jacobs. “There’s a tagline we use, ‘Bringing families to the table since 1888,’ and we want to be part of that family with you whether it’s Rosh Hashana, Hanukkah or Easter.”

Samoa Sacrifices a Day for Its Future [NYT] – A massive change in infrastructure and function, revealing time (or at least our documentation of it) to be more arbitrary than fixed.

The Pacific island nation of Samoa and its even tinier neighbor Tokelau are skipping Friday this week, jumping westward in time across the international date line and into the shifting economic balance of the 21st century. The time change is meant to align Samoa with its Asian trading partners; it moves the islands’ work days further from the United States, which dominated its economy in the past. In this giant-step version of daylight saving time, the island’s 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 who live in Tokelau, will go to sleep on Thursday and wake up on Saturday. The government has decreed that those who miss a day of work on Friday will be paid all the same.

Portable Cathedrals [Domus] – Dan Hill’s epic articulate review of the Nokia N9 isn’t a gadget review, it’s a (tl;dr) cultural critique of design, where culture is within the producer organizations as much as – if not more than – the consumer society.

Yet the skeuomorphic nonsense that incomprehensibly pervades apps like Apple’s own Contacts, Calendar, iBooks, GameCenter, Find My Friends et al-all awkward faux-leather, wood and paper stylings-is is of such questionable “taste” it threatens to damage the overall harmony of iOS with its discordant notes. You cannot derive value from the idle suggestion of such textures on screen; they are physical properties and should be experienced as such, or not at all. Yet Apple’s design team will not explore those physical properties, merely sublimating their desire for such qualities into a picture of leather, a picture of wood. It recalls Marcel Duchamp’s critique of ‘retinal art’ i.e. intended only to please the eye.

For a Corn Chip Maker, the New Spokesman Is the Product Itself [NYT] – The argot of advertising is hilarious and depressing all at once. Zany and authentic spokesbag?

At the Fiesta Bowl on Monday, the game’s sponsor, Tostitos, will have a new endorser – a “spokesbag” puppet in the form of a chip bag with arms, a mouth and a generous dollop of swagger – to humorously convey the message that it is the tortilla chip brand that enlivens social gatherings. The new life-of-the-party campaign resurrects the top-selling snack’s 1990s theme. ” ‘Tostitos Knows How to Party’ means we are returning to our roots,” said Janelle Anderson, the brand’s senior director for marketing. Tostitos returned to the ’90s theme after marketing research over the last year found that its customers wanted reasons to celebrate and have fun in economically lean times. Tostitos chose a zany character “to get the message across and make it authentic,” said Ms. Anderson. “We wanted something that was magnetic, fun and approachable.” The brand’s new advertising agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, decided to “bring personality to the brand, and, in one of those rare cases, have the actual product be the actual spokesperson,” said Brett Craig, the group’s creative director for Tostitos. Working with Legacy Effects, a Los Angeles special effects company, the agency developed the hand-manipulated puppet with movable parts and special effects to convey energy, said Mr. Craig.

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ChittahChattah Quickies December 19th, 2011

Art.sy’s ‘Genome’ Predicts What Paintings You Will Like [Wired] – Although the article deals more with the carefully controlled art market, I’m mostly intrigued by this quantitative translation of the ineffable. Pandora is a successful proof of concept (though I suppose we might debate it’s ability to deliver on it’s promise); I am waiting for the donut genome project and its recommendation engine. [Hah. Mere seconds after posting, I come upon this. Pretty close!]

On its screen, the Warhol painting-that is, the phone’s rendering of the laptop’s picture of the painting-was now surrounded by tiny thumbnails of other artwork, painted or made by diverse artists and dating from multiple eras, including the present day. According to Art.sy, these works all share the same DNA, so to speak. Cleveland and a team of art historians have spent the past year studying thousands of works and compiling a list of their distinct and measurable elements. The result is the Art Genome, composed at present of more than 550 “genes”: attributes of fine art that range from the simply factual (the medium, the color palette) to the undeniably subjective (the “movement” a work falls into, or its “subject matter”). Using these attributes, Art.sy’s recommendation engine can evaluate a piece on the fly and suggest relationships with other works, presenting those results on any device-even, eventually, a phone.

Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens [SHfHS.com] – Just from a cultural collision perspective, I like the conflation of techno-nihilism and not-for-profit advocacy. Two great tastes!

The greatest threats to humanity lie in technologies humans have invented. From the danger of nuclear war or catastrophic global warming to the looming threat of future technologies such as self-replicating nanobots and powerful artificial intelligence, SHfHS is dedicated to finding ways to ensure that humanity continues to progress without snuffing ourselves out along the way. There are people trying to do the good work of saving humanity from potentially destroying itself, but they need our help. That’s what Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens is all about: finding the people doing the best work to prevent man-made X-Risk and supporting them. You can help.

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot [Dirty 30s!] – Once again, art reduced to a formula. Here, there’s no pretense that doing so remains within the realm of art. In general, I find these deconstructions fascinating as artifacts, whether or not they produce quality output.

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words. No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell. The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be–different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

To thwart porn, colleges are buying up .xxx sites [AP] – The introduction of new domain suffixes means new flavors of pre-emptive domains. It was amusing more than a decade ago when companies like (say) Starbucks bought (or battled over) domains like (say) starbucksucks.com. The likely misappropriations of a college brand are slightly different, a this story reveals.

The University of Kansas is buying up website names such as http://www.KUgirls.xxx and http://www.KUnurses.xxx. But not because it’s planning a Hot Babes of Kansas site or an X-rated gallery of the Nude Girls of the Land of Aaahs. Instead, the university and countless other schools and businesses are rushing to prevent their good names from falling into the hands of the pornography industry. Over the past two months, they have snapped up tens of thousands of “.xxx” website names that could be exploited by the adult entertainment business. “Down the road there’s no way we can predict what some unscrupulous entrepreneur might come up with,” said Paul Vander Tuig, trademark licensing director at the Lawrence, Kan., school.

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ChittahChattah Quickies November 22nd, 2011

Separating You and Me? 4.74 Degrees – In 2008, Microsoft found the number to be 6.6; it depends on how one defines a connection. Can we infer anything from Facebook having a looser definition than Facebook?

Adding a new chapter to the research that cemented the phrase “six degrees of separation” into the language, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan reported that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world was not six but 4.74. The original “six degrees” finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. The new research used a slightly bigger cohort: 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population.

Who Uses SpiderOak? – More Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise. Just because you have personas in your development process doesn’t mean you need to make that your marketing. It’s bad enough that you think and talk about your customers this way, at least have the good manners not to talk TO them this way.

Gavin the Geek – Gavin is a geek. He has been for as long as he can remember. Instead of playing with toy guns, he was ripping apart and rebuilding the Atari – a gift to his dad when he was a young boy. In his spare time, he builds servers for friends. In his professional time, he builds servers for friends. And then he gets to administer them all. Making sure they are all backed up, frequently, painlessly, and securely is crucial in maintaining his sanity. SpiderOak bounces into Gavin’s domain. Now, he can load SpiderOak on all of the servers, keep all the data secure, run everything from the command line, keep out of trouble, and never have to worry if, by chance, he didn’t build the server just right…

5 Ways to Think About Nuisance Fees [NYT.com] – Some great deconstruction of the way we respond to different types of fees, pointing towards some design principles for the creation of fees. The examples in this article are consistent with what we’ve heard in a number of studies.

The discussion starts with a three-pronged test of whether the fee is reasonable: is it fair, is it disclosed and do you have a choice about paying it? Fairness is the least clear, but Robin Block, a retired actuary in Manhattan, argues that the fee must have some relationship to the actual cost of providing the item or service. By that definition, the 3 percent currency conversion fees that credit and debit card issuers levy are unfair. Ditto the $10 or so a day that rental car agencies charge for GPS devices that retail for $100. Bank of America’s effort to charge $5 a month for debit cards is an interesting case study in this context of cost, given that it said that it all but had to add the fee because of new rules that limited what it could charge merchants for accepting the cards.

Ambidextrous magazine shuts down – Although their website is not with this sad news, here’s the email I just got. You can see my contributions here, here, and here.

We know it’s been a while and you’ve maybe wondered what has been going on with us. The global financial crisis, revolutions, The New York Times now charging online… a lot has happened. And with the downturn and the state of publishing, it has been tough. We fought as long as we could and unfortunately must now close Ambidextrous. The magazine has been a labor of love, but it has unfortunately not been organizationally and financially sustainable. Since 2005, we’ve done our best to help designers share their stories and to build a movement around that. As a movement, Ambidextrous will live on, and we should have conversations about what great next steps are for fostering intellectual discussion and sharing in the design community. It’s the community that makes us hopeful and pushes us to find the next outlet, the next forum, the next thing for us to collaborate on. So keep in touch. Share your ideas. Let’s meet again soon.

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ChittahChattah Quickies November 10th, 2011

Hollandia Produce Launches Squircle Packaging [The Packer] – I was thrilled to come across the term squircle the other day, in the context of this packaging redesign. Of course, Wikipedia has something to say about it and the name has found its way to content and design firms, too.

Hollandia Produce LLC is launching a clamshell redesign – called the Squircle – for its Living Butter Lettuce. The design incorporates features of both a square and a circle, optimizing space and enabling automated packaging systems. On the shipping side, it gives a 20% increase in units per pallet…Consumer and frequent-user focus group studies showed the new design maintains brand recognition while attracting first-time buyers.

Thirteen movie poster trends that are here to stay and what they say about their movies [Oh No They Didn't!] – Compilations of visually similar, to put it gently, movie posters. In the way that the entertainment industry has created tropes within the content of the film that engage us in actively creating the plot at the same time as are following it, the marketing of film has established its own set of visual memes and cultural cues. Repetition and familiarity establish shorthand, and while we may decry the lack of originality, the predictability seems to work financially. Bonus from All This ChittahChattah years ago: Good ideas never go out of style.

Run For Your Life – Apparently all action heroes run through the same blue-lit, narrow alleyway when trying to escape/catch the bad guys. It’s also possible that graphic designers just re-use the same stock image of the running guy over and over again. The movies themselves are pretty similar to the Black/Orange ones except that all the explosions have been replaced with angst.

Hunk Gets Chunky: Personal Trainer Vows to Get Fat [ABC News] – While at one point in the article this is dismissed as a publicity stunt, the idea of producers experiencing what their consumers experience is compelling. From Black Like Me to Patricia Moore and now Fat Like Me. It seems unlikely that this trainer can replicate the motivational, cognitive, emotional, gustatory and many other issues that affect body image, diet, and exercise, but at least mechanically trying to lose weight as his clients are should be revelatory. I hope he does something with this experience.

The 32-year-old former underwear model has ballooned from about 180 pounds to 233 since last month. He has given himself until the end of March to get to his goal of 265 pounds, a weight he intends to keep for a few months. “A lot of my clients have been skipping classes,” he said of the motivation behind his burgeoning pudge. “I decided I really didn’t understand what they were feeling and their emotions.”

Dinosaur bones an untapped market for luxury set [SF Chronicle] – The recent story about the blinged-out iPad made with crushed dinosaur bones is obviously part of a larger trend towards dino luxe. I really love days when you can’t tell the real news from the fake news.

“Market value comes down to what a person is willing to shell out for a dinosaur,” says the 60-year-old dino dealer, who has been in the business since 1985, selling Jurassic ribs for $350 each, Cretaceous toes at $295 a digit and a 16-foot-long Camarasaurus tail for $20,000. Wall Street recognition will be fast and furious once he can supply the market with dinosaur genitalia, says Prandi…Hollywood stars Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio in 2007 entered into a spirited bidding war at I.M. Chait auctioneers in Beverly Hills over who would go home with a 67 million-year-old T. rex skull. Cage’s $276,000 bid won the day. “Whether a Brontosaurus looks good in your salon is a matter of taste, Lajotte-Robaglia says, “but these customers are young wealthy people who grew up mesmerized by Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ and find the aesthetics of a dinosaur more interesting than a Picasso.” Prandi says confirming a dinosaur’s provenance is just as tricky as verifying the authenticity of a work by the Spanish master. “A lot of people call me up from all over the country and say, ‘I found a dinosaur in my backyard,’ but it turns out to be a rock that looks like a dinosaur,” Prandi says. Even so, the United States remains the world leader in mining luxury dinosaurs.

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What did you expect? November 3rd, 2011

‘You Are Not So Smart’: Why We Can’t Tell Good Wine From Bad [theatlantic.com] – In this excerpt from his book, David McRaney cites research suggesting that expectations are as critical as sensation in how we judge and gauge experience. If we expect that a wine will be high-quality, this will not only inform, but over-ride the actual experience of that wine. This has potential implications on how we talk to people about products and services in our research, relying more heavily on expectations as a lens to consider experience.

So is the fancy world of wine tasting all pretentious bunk? Not exactly. The wine tasters in the experiments were being influenced by the nasty beast of expectation. A wine expert’s objectivity and powers of taste under normal circumstance might be amazing, but Brochet’s manipulations of the environment misled his subjects enough to dampen their acumen. An expert’s own expectation can act like Kryptonite on their superpowers. Expectation, as it turns out, is just as important as raw sensation. The build up to an experience can completely change how you interpret the information reaching your brain from your otherwise objective senses. In psychology, true objectivity is pretty much considered to be impossible. Memories, emotions, conditioning, and all sorts of other mental flotsam taint every new experience you gain. In addition to all this, your expectations powerfully influence the final vote in your head over what you believe to be reality. So, when tasting a wine, or watching a movie, or going on a date, or listening to a new stereo through $300 audio cables — some of what you experience comes from within and some comes from without.

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ChittahChattah Quickies October 31st, 2011

In East Harlem, ‘Keep Out’ Signs Apply to Renters [NYT.com] – When in a large city I often look at the residential spaces above dense commercial/retail and wonder who lives there and what it’s like (I once lived above a real estate office of some type – we never really knew what they did down there – and was constantly pestered by couriers and other delivery people) – but the answer may very well be that nobody lives up there. Naively, it doesn’t make economic sense, but the situation appears to more complex than that.

East Harlem has been undergoing a resurgence for two decades, yet the neighborhood is still pockmarked with four- or five-story walk-ups where the ground-floor stores are bustling and the apartments above are devoid of life. Their windows are boarded up, blocked up or just drearily empty, torn curtains testifying to no one’s having lived there for years. Although the vacancy rate in Manhattan hovers at 1 percent, at least some of the landlords of these sealed-up buildings are deliberately keeping their buildings mostly vacant, content to earn income from first-floor commercial tenants rather than deal with the trouble of residents. …At the corner of 106th Street and Third Avenue, the boarded-up windows and the remainder of the five-story building have been sleekly painted a rich taupe, allowing the Chase Bank branch below to escape looking as if it were in a forsaken slum. Still, no one lives in the apartments.

Reinventing Post Offices in a Digital World [NYT.com] – Digital, and all that it encompasses, is remaking every industry. We straddle the opposites of welcoming new services and holding onto traditional ways of receiving familiar services. Nice to see the German post office reframe this away from loss, towards reinvention. The article doesn’t characterize the pain that must have been felt by the organization and the customers but you can imagine it must have been tremendous.

With mail volumes decreasing 1 to 2 percent annually in many countries, European postal services from Germany to Sweden to Switzerland have reinvented themselves over the past decade as multifaceted delivery and information companies tailored to the virtual age. Though Deutsche Post by law still delivers to every address six days a week, it has jettisoned tens of thousands of buildings, 100,000 positions and its traditional focus on paper mail. “We realized that being a national postal provider was an endangered business, that we had to redefine the role of postal providers in a digital world,” said Clemens Beckmann, executive vice president of innovation of the German post office’s mail division. After selling off all but 24 of 29,000 post office buildings in the past 15 years, the German postal service is now housed mostly within other business “partners,” including banks, convenience stores and even private homes. In rural areas, a shopkeeper or even a centrally located homeowner is given a sign and deputized as a part-time postmaster. At the same time, many European postal services, including the one here, have developed a host of electronic services that are increasingly making traditional post offices and mailboxes obsolete. Bills and catalogs can go first to digital mailboxes run by the post office on customers’ computers, and the customers can tell the post office what they want it to print and deliver

Ford reintroduces the 1965 Mustang [Yahoo! Autos] – First I’m hearing that Ford has its own business supporting the classic car market. There are obviously design, performance and legal/safety issues why they won’t sell you an actual 1965 Mustang, but the idea of having someone make you a new version of an old car is very compelling. Who will make me one?

As part of its Ford Reproduction business, Ford revealed today it had approved a new stamping of the steel bodies for first-generation Mustang that buyers could then build into their own 1964 1/2 through 1966 Mustang, using whatever engine, axles, interior and other parts they can find on their own. The first-generation Mustangs rank as America’s most-restored vehicle, and the cottage industry of reproduction parts has grown to where it’s possible to build a Mustang just as it would have appeared on the showroom floor in the mid-1960s, down to the pushbutton AM/FM radio.

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ChittahChattah Quickies October 25th, 2011

Dissident Creates by Remote Control [NYT.com] – Of course this is a political act as much as an artistic or commercial one (and some art theorist can probably explain why it must always be all three, yes?) but this seemed a novel application of remote collaboration software, at least in the way they’ve framed it.

In an unusual collaboration with W magazine, Ai Weiwi created a story line for a series of photos that were shot on location in New York by the photographer Max Vadukul as Mr. Ai looked on, art directing via Skype on a laptop computer. Mr. Vadukul would set up a shot and look to Mr. Ai for approval. “We could see him on the screen, scrolling through the images,” Ms. Solway said. “What was so interesting was his attention to every detail. There was this big shower in Rikers – we thought it looked very dingy, but he said the grout was way too clean and graphic.”

Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence [NYT.com] – While the whole article primarily deals with the decisions that financial professionals make (scary scary stuff), the principles on judgement and decision-decision making feel sound, if challenging.

You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do.

Personal Eco-Concierges Ease Transition to Green [NYT.com] – Last year we did a research project that looked at “going green” as a journey. We met people at various stages along that transition and what their decisions were like at each of those stages. No surprise to see businesses appear explicitly aimed at facilitating the steps along that journey; indeed we identified other products and services that were or could speak to that goal – beyond usage to growth.

“The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making,” said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business in Manhattan that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners. It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down. “There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change,” said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb’n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. “These are busy professionals who don’t have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services.”

Sexy, religious images spotted on new money [CBC News] – Getting feedback to designs before going to press is proven once again to be a good idea. Seems like a great application of a focus group, since the feedback needed is shallow and not very nuanced, although interesting to note that the social dynamics of a focus group limit the naturalness of that feedback – so much so that it made it into the report!

The Bank of Canada fretted that Canadians would find all kinds of unintended images on the new bills. So the bank used focus groups to spot “potential controversies.” “The overall purpose of the research was to disaster check the $50 and $100 notes among the general public and cash handlers,” says a January report to the central bank. Almost every group thought the see-through window looked like a woman’s body, but participants were often shy about pointing it out “However, once noted, it often led to acknowledgment and laughter among many of the participants in a group.” On the other side of the bill, there’s an image of a researcher at a microscope and a depiction of the double-helix structure of DNA. But the DNA strand evoked something else. A Vancouver focus group thought it was “a sex toy (i.e., sex beads).” Others thought it was the Big Dipper. There was no mistaking the microscope, but when focus groups flipped over the bill they noticed the edge of the instrument showed through like a weird birthmark on Borden’s cheek. Respondents also thought the former prime minister was either cross-eyed or that each eye was looking off in a different direction, the report says “Others felt that the PM’s moustache is unkempt.” Every focus group thought they saw religious iconography on the face of the Peace Tower clock. “It was often described as ‘The Star of David.’ Others referred to it as a ‘pagan’ or ‘religious’ symbol,’” the document says-Bank of Canada spokeswoman Julie Girard said the bills got tweaked after the focus groups. “Before and after those focus groups, there were design changes for multiple reasons,” she said.

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