Posts tagged “consistency”

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Solo Cup: How the disposable drinking vessel became an American party staple. [slate.com] – Hmm how did this odd red cup become the undisputed centerpiece of the American party scene? The recent redesign provides an opportunity to explore the question. I wonder, will most users even register, or appreciate, the receptacle’s new “distinctive elements?”

How did the red cup become synonymous with good times, keg draughts, and sticky-floored basements? “The history is a little sketchy,” says Kim Healy, VP of consumer business for Solo. “We know we were one of the first to introduce a party cup.” So perhaps first-mover advantage played a role, with followers clamoring to emulate Solo’s technological breakthrough? For surely the quality of the design played a part. From the beginning, this has been the Sherman tank of disposable mealware. Made of thick, molded polystyrene, the Solo party cup could be squeezed in meaty frat-guy paws, dropped to the ground by tipsy highschool cheerleaders, and mercilessly battered by Flip Cup contestants-all while maintaining shape and functionality. It was stiffer and more resilient than competitor party cups like Dixie’s. No doubt the cup’s opacity was a selling point for underage college and high-school drinkers who would prefer not to reveal exactly what they’re sipping. But why red?

Bun-Making Goes High Tech [wired.com] – In other news related to icons that represent our culture’s mass consumption, robots are checking out our buns. The aim here is to eliminate any distinctive elements, to achieve ultimate consistency at scale.

Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have devised a system for inspecting breadstuffs automatically, using image-processing technology. A camera trained on the production line captures an image of each bun, and software analyzes its color to determine whether it’s over- or undercooked, then adjusts the oven accordingly. The program also checks the bun’s shape and diameter and the distribution of garnishes, like sesame seeds or a cornmeal dusting. Ovenmaker BakeTech is working to commercialize the prototype, which has been saving Flower’s buns for the past year. May you never get stuck with a unique baked good again.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Vermont's first IHOP gets permission to go beyond standard franchise menu and offer Vermont maple syrup – “You can’t open up a Vermont pancake shop without Vermont maple syrup,” said Sam Handy Jr., who is the restaurant’s general manager and whose family owns the franchis
  • Symbols of pot-subculture on the threshold of the mainstream – The significance of April 20 dates to a ritual begun in the early 1970s in which a group of Northern California teenagers smoked marijuana every day at 4:20 p.m. Word of the ritual spread and expanded to a yearly event in various places. For fans of the drug, perhaps the biggest indicator of changing attitudes is how widespread the observance of April 20 has become, including its use in marketing campaigns for stoner-movie openings (like last year’s “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay”) and as a peg for marijuana-related television programming (like the G4 network’s prime-time double bill Monday of “Super High Me” and “Half Baked”). Events tied to April 20 have “reached the tipping point in the last few years after being a completely underground phenomenon for a long time,” said Steven Hager, the creative director and former editor of High Times. “And I think that’s symptomatic of the fact that people’s perception of marijuana is reaching a tipping point.”
  • Chinese government database doesn't recognize all the language's characters, creating 60 million edge cases – New Chinese government computers are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters. At least 60 million Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new ID cards — unless they change their names to something more common. Since 2003 China has been working on a standardized list of characters for people to use in everyday life, including when naming children. A government linguistics said the list would include more than 8,000 characters. Although that is far fewer than the database now supposedly includes, the official said it was more than enough “to convey any concept in any field.” About 3,500 characters are in everyday use.

Radisson doesn’t quite get basic tech

Like the phone.

Last weekend I needed to set a wake-up call, and either introversion or bitter experience leads me to trust an automated service more than a human being, but even so, I always look on the phone for instructions on how to arrange for one.

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Right. Press the button and you’ll either end up in the automated system or you’ll be speaking to someone who can handle it. I press the button, but nothing. Press again, nothing. I try the other buttons and they all simply click. The phone has special function buttons but they are unprogrammed.

Okay, all is not lost. The room has another phone in it.
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But this phone has a different interface. Here we’re told to touch 77 (why is touch the verb, anyway?). Doing so brings me to the voice mail interface, which does not have any wake-up options.

Two phones, two different interfaces, both screwed up. I called 0 (or touched 0, if you prefer) and spoke to someone (shudder!) and it was handled.

It’s just a weird failure of attention-to-detail.

Spin story

I bitched about Spin magazine and questioned the notion of relaunch vs. loyalty vs. targeting in a previous post, only to read in Wired (in a piece by Chris Anderson excerpted from the just-released The Long Tail”) that “money-losing Spin magazine was just, well, spun off for a fire-sale sum.” Wikipedia sez

[Under the direction of new editor-in-chief Andy Pemberton] The [May 2006] issue’s format took a dramatic turn to many readers’ disgust. The new style has been compared to celebrity gossip magazines such as Us Weekly, even going as far as to have a cover story and picture on Kevin Federline. Prior to the issue’s release, much of the staff quit or were fired.

and

As of June 26, 2006, Andy Pemberton resigned from Spin as editor-in-chief amid much criticism of his handling of the magazine.

and

Vibe’s recent sale of the magazine for only $5 million, given the fact that VIBE paid over $45 million for the publication in 1997.

I left my last issue at the post office, didn’t even take it home to flip through. I didn’t even open the magazine before discarding it. Sad, really.

Meanwhile, Chuck Klosterman has created a big stir in the blogosphere with his Esquire article about the lack of criticism in the gaming scene.

You Spin Me Right Round

I’ve received my second issue of Spin magazine since a recent relaunch. It’s gone from being a youth-oriented slightly alternative music magazine that featured (one of my writing heroes) Chuck Klosterman (in an ever-declining role) to a youth-oriented slightly alternative People magazine.

I wasn’t exactly in love with the old Spin, given my rural lifestyle (i.e., Portigal Consulting world headquarters is just blocks away from an alpaca ranch), but I admit I found it strangely comforting to read about Coachella and Death Cab for Cutie even though there’s little chance I will go to the first or listen to the second. I want to say “I’m too old” but it’s really not a matter of age, I have always liked reading about this stuff, but I never felt part of it. Reading Spin a couple of years ago was an attempt to shake off the depressing feeling that Classic Rock Radio (and Rock Marketing) has been giving me for many years.

But I can’t stand this new magazine, it’s replaced attitude with vapiditude. Spin will certainly lose me as a reader. I’m not sure that’s a problem for them. I’m probably not a customer for their advertisers and therefore not a valued reader.

It does raise some interesting questions about how to “re-launch” or otherwise evolve a brand. I know this is not the first time Spin did this (at one point they were vaguely hard-hitting, big format, run by Bob Guccione, Jr., the Penthouse scion). But there’s no transpanecy in this process. Where is Klosterman? Why all the pictures of hotties? Parties? Hot parties? I’m asked to consider it as the same Spin, even though it’s not, and it doesn’t feel like it.

In this case, the entire experience has changed, it’s not a new ad campaign or new bumper graphics, old stuff is gone, new stuff is here, the editorial voice has been revamped.

Contrast with newspapers that change features all the time (newly designed stock tables, new font, new page format, you name it) and typically will explain the heck out of it, what was done, how it was done, and why it’s better. They know that when you have a comfortable relationship with a paper, you’ll be shattered if changes slightly without you knowing a little bit in advance.

A recent study we did around some commercial software that was used aggressively every day all day found that the management of inevitable changes is crucial, the software is “their” software, just like Spin is “my” magazine. The consumer/producer split has an emotional component that producers don’t always get. As one of the software users told us (paraphrase) “I don’t come to your office and change how your system works!”

That’s sort of how I feel. Spin didn’t ask me if I was going to be okay with this, and I’m not. I hate this magazine and I want my old one back. And Spin is probably all right with that reaction, but it’s easy to identify other cases where it’s not so cool to piss people off so much that they leave.

No pat solutions here, although maybe others have examples of good or bad to contribute here.

Six Feet Under or Over The Shark


What’s wrong with Six Feet Under? In May 2001, Tad Friend had a long article in The New Yorker (not that I can find online anywhere) about the impending premiere of this show. Alan Ball talked about all the typical TV-writing tropes and how they would stay away from them. I’m pretty sure he mentioned the example of an elderly black or Asian man projecting wisdom, and I’m sure there were others. The point of the writing, he stressed, was to move away from that, into something that was not television. That is the HBO slogan, isn’t it?

Now we watch this week’s episode. A separated wife hires a nanny, and emphasizes that she plans for her to carry in the bottles of water. The nanny arrives and instructed by the wife that the bottles are indeed too heavy for her, so if the nanny could please bring them in when they arrive. Naturally, the nanny doesn’t work out, but the estranged husband appears on the doorstep to drop off the kids, and he’s dutifully carrying the bottled water.

We’ve known these supporting characters for several seasons, through the ups and downs of their relationship (mental illness, meddling siblings, financial struggles, infidelity, lying, etc.) and this particular need – the bottled water – has never been mentioned. It was introduced in the episode purely so it could be wrapped up by the end of the episode. Indeed, the need that the bottled water symbolized was pretty much out of left field as well. Now this kind of lame trickery is exactly what Hollywood is good at. Tell you how to feel, set it up, deliver it. Bang, boom, payoff, done.

Hey, elsewhere in the episode a group of grieving/celebrating women chanted anti-men slogans, but then began to sing. One woman began to sing first, in a quavery and not-very-musical voice. But then others picked up the song, and it gathered strength, musically, as more women joined in, their voices joining together in a lovely and uplifting moment. The voices got better, the initially-quavery singer begins a call-and-response, the camera circles around their candle-lit and Womanly Faces as the song grows.

I think there’s nothing more Hollywood-in-the-past-10-years than that scene.

It seems that they created some founding principles, or a mission/values statement, but they chose not to stick to them. They might have done well to have read Built to Last, a now-classic management book that explains how other business efforts stayed successful, and if I recall, that values statement was part of the common thread.

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