Posts tagged “banana”

Lena’s War Story: The Researcher and the Banana Thief

Lena Blackstock (@lenacorinna) recently graduated with a Master’s in Design Ethnography from the University of Dundee, Scotland. She is currently a Creative Contextualiser at Point-Blank International in Berlin.

While getting my Master of Design Ethnography at the University of Dundee I was able to dive head first into full-on ethnographic research projects with actual clients. We were asked to do research on self-service usage in Scotland. After the first few interviews and shop-alongs I met one of my last participants in a nearby coffee shop. Initially she was only going to do an interview but then agreed to also do a shop-along the next day. She offered to invite her roommate along, which was especially interesting as I was trying to understand more about how groups use self-service technology. I jumped at this opportunity.

I met the participant and her roommate in front of a large grocery store in town and we moved through the aisle as they stocked up on groceries for the week. They were sharing a cart throughout the shopping trip but when we came up to the self-service checkout area, they each took out their groceries and separated them on the checkout counter. They each managed to navigate through the self-service process without any major glitches (aside from the occasional “unexpected item in bagging area”), even with the loose fruits and vegetables they had to weigh and scan.

After the shopping trip we went back to their home and I wrapped up with a few informal questions to get feedback on their experience during this shopping trip. As I was finishing my last questions my participant’s roommate said something that caught me by surprise. I asked them about any issues they may have encountered during scanning or weighing items at the checkout, and almost as an afterthought, she mentions: “Well no, not really-but you can trick those machines when you weigh stuff, you know? For example, when I buy bananas, like today, I hold them up a bit when I weigh them so that the machine only charges for a smaller amount than it really is.”

Yikes! Had I just gotten myself into one of those ethical dilemmas that we had talked about in Uni? I had unintentionally captured a self-service banana thief. In one of our previous modules, we had conversations about dealing with these dilemmas, but those were theories. I was now in the real position of having to make a choice as a researcher. Should I stay true to the data and include the information in the final report for the client, even if I didn’t directly observe it or ask for it? And what about the fact that the banana thief wasn’t even the actual participant whom I had recruited, but her roommate? Does that make a difference? On the off chance that the client wants more details on this fact, how will I handle this? Surely I have to hold true to the confidentiality agreement with the participants, right? Or should I just leave that one tiny bit of information out of the report? Is it really that important to the report if I wasn’t asking for it? But what if this piece of information, which got me into this conundrum in the first place, is actually pertinent to the research project and addresses some of the client’s challenges and pain-points?

In addition to these concerns, I also had to work within the University Ethical Guidelines. And as an ethnographer-in-training, I had to make a decision on how to handle this information. Not only this once, but from this point forward if I was going to go out into the world and work as a researcher. I realized this was as good a time as any to ask myself: What kind of values am I going to live by as a researcher?

In this case, I chose to include the findings in my report and stay true to what I observed. I made a very conscious decision that no matter what, I would not share the confidential information of my participant. In the end the client was happy to hear the ‘real story,’ as it confirmed some of the security issues of this technology that they were suspecting. Now, would I make this same decision the exact same way in a project today? I can’t say. Many factors play into the decisions we make as researchers and often, we have to rely on some sort of gut feeling. But encountering this situation at the beginning of my ‘life as an ethno’, forced me to internalize the challenges and to make a choice.

Most research projects have their own version of a ‘banana thief’, an unexpected observation or something overheard, something that challenges our approach, our assumptions and our moral code for conducting research.

In the end, my chance encounter with the self-service banana thief didn’t provide me with answers for future encounters, but presented a first instance to ask myself questions and to begin shaping my personal approach to research. And that is a good start.

Step Across the Border

I didn’t mind when Facebook invaded my privacy (just kidding, Mark Z), but now they’ve got my turkey sandwich!

7-Eleven has rebranded much of their packaged ready-to-eat food with the FarmVille game logo. (To be accurate, FarmVille is actually a product of Zynga, a game company, and not Facebook. But I’ve only ever come in contact with the game via Facebook, so that’s the association I make.)

The experience of seeing the FarmVille branding in meatspace (no pun intended) rather than on a screen was an odd one, as though something had jumped a border in my life and was inhabiting new territory.

In slightly tangential news, here’s another odd cross-promotion I saw recently:

Free bananas with your purchase of Nilla Wafers. No idea what this one’s about, unless it stems back to 2007 – the year in which Nabisco sponsored a banana pudding pie-eating contest at theme parks around the country….

London Bananas

In our recent AIGA Gain article about noticing, we relate how the process of noticing once and then noticing again is a way to find patterns and uncover themes.

During my recent trip to the UK, I took this picture of a discarded banana peel.

I didn’t notice other bananas, but someone else did and they’ve started the London Bananas Project, a fantastic archive of banana peels in the London public space.

When I arrived I noticed something straight away: there’s a lot of banana skins around.

I see them everywhere. They’re languishing on doorsteps, hanging out in the middle of the road, dangling off street signs, peeking out of piles of garbage, reclining in the middle of the sidewalk, riding the bus for free. A great number of them are bright yellow as if they’re fresh and have just been dropped, although they appear in all states of decay. I don’t know how or why they caught my attention, but within a week of being in London I couldn’t get my mind off these banana skins. Where were they coming from? Who was eating all these bananas and leaving the skins around? Why was it always bananas I was seeing, and not, say, oranges? Was it a sign? Was there something sinister going on? Apparently these little hazards were a covert operation going completely unnoticed; everyone I asked about it said that they had never noticed anything of the sort and looked at me as if I was nuts.

That’s a great description of the power of noticing (even if it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s still a great set of muscles to keep flexing).

Here’s bananas in Bangalore:

See also: Street Mattress

Japan pictures – part 3 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 1 and part 2.


Japan pictures – part 1 of 3

I’ve uploaded nearly 1300 of my Japan pictures to Flickr. For reasons I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t added titles or tags or descriptions proactively, but please add comments or questions on flickr and I’ll gladly offer a story or explanation.

Meanwhile, I’m including some of my faves here, as well as part 2 and part 3.


The Springfield Shopper

Life does imitate The Simpsons, or at least exhibit the absurditity so well captured by The Simpsons. First, while I’m all about avoiding waste and am brimming in admiration for cultures that use every part of the buffalo, it’s hard not to be a bit suspicious when the Dole Nutrition Institute goes to some great lengths to offer non-food (but hey, they are healthy) uses for Dole products.

For example, Banana Bread Head

Have a couple of bananas that have ripened beyond their prime? Don’t throw them away! Treat your hair to this vitamin-rich conditioning pack by blending a banana with a tablespoon or two of honey, plus a few drops of almond or vanilla extract for extra shine and a yummy fragrance that will remind you of mom’s fresh-baked banana bread.

Mix together banana, and honey in a blender. Wet hair with warm water and apply. For extra penetration, use plastic shower cap or wrap your hair with a towel. Wait about 20 minutes – perfect time to try the banana mask below – then rinse thoroughly, following with shampoo and conditioner as usual.

Mashed banana functions as a mucilage, much like aloe vera gel, protecting hair from environmental damage and smoothing frizzy flyaway hair. By bringing moisture to the surface of your scalp, this pack also serves as an excellent treatment for a dry, flaky scalp.

I’m going to be sick. I have been known to sport some fruity-smelling hair, but really, too much. Remember Steve Martin’s deodorant?

Tunafish Sandwich! I put a tunafish sandwich under each arm, one or two behind the ears… I don’t smell like any other guy! And it’s economical too, because the smell lasts for four or five days.

Dole also offers information on some other fresh fruit stuff to rub on yourself, including
* Lana’i Pineapple Body Scrub
* Strawberry Body Smoothie
* Indian Mangocado Body Polish
* Brown Sugar Jojoba Scrub
* Caribbean Conditioner
* Green Goddess Mask
* After-Beach Banana Mask
* Pi?±a Party Peel
* Good Morning Mask
* Papaya Peel
* Queen Bee Cleanser
* Green Tea Tonic

And elsewhere in Homer-esque food stuffs comes The Butter Trough, a restaurant in Atlanta that serves a strangely limited menu of bread, breadsticks, butter, and iced tea. It’s all free, thanks to advertising.

Finally, we serve you the absolute best and freshest supply of butter to be found in the region. Made from only organic minerals, The Butter Trough’s butter is made daily for your enjoyment. Twice hourly, the supply of butter in The Butter Trough is refilled. For your enjoyment, our farm clad employees slop the super heated butter into the butter trough so that you can enjoy it at its most liquid consistency.

The butter is made of minerals? Employees are “farm clad” and “slop” the butter into a trough? Damn right it better be free because who the hell would pay for this?

Don’t miss their catchy slogan “Friends. Fun. Food. Free.”

[via Mom; The Consumerist]

Fruit Changes

Two interesting stories about fruit!

Popular Science offers an interesting history of the banana. Although we think of banana as an atomic concept (i.e., we don’t think of varieties as we do with tomatoes or apples), the banana that consumers eat – the Cavendish – is the only banana there is. But in fact, there are many varieties, most not viable for growing/shipping/storing/eating. Way back when, the Big Mike was the banana available in grocery stores, but was effectively wiped out by fungus. It tasted different.

That alone is a bit mind-blowing for me – if I summon up the banana flavor in my brain, it feels like a universal constant. But 40 years ago, that constant was different! Wild. I’d love to taste one.

The story relates the efforts to prevent a similar fate befalling the Cavendish, and focuses more on challenges in the development of the Cavendish’s successor.

The Washington Post relates how growers of Red Delicious apples have selected for other attributes (hardiness and color) more than taste, and have turned one of the most popular apples into an also-ran. Some intersting insights into the production and distribution methods. Growing up, I certainly remember that most fruits had a season and you couldn’t get some things at different points in the year. The implication here is that consumers have a more consistent supply of produce, but that methods for storage preservation (i.e., Red Delicious apples can sit for months after harvest, in order to create a supply for after the season ends) may also lead to a decline in quality.


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