Posts tagged “free”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Rate This Article: What’s Wrong with the Culture of Critique [] – Are mounting (and recursive) reviews and opinions on every-little-thing blinding us with tidal waves of bias and robbing us of fundamentally human experiences such as the joys of discovery and failure?

Our ever more sophisticated arsenal of stars and thumbs will eventually serve to curtail serendipity, adventure, and idiotic floundering. But more immediate is the simple problem of contamination. When the voices of hundreds of strangers, or even just three shrill ones, enter our heads, a tiny but vital part of ourselves is diminished. Suddenly we’re breached, denied the pleasure of articulating our own judgment on this professor, or that meal, or this city… There’s an essential freedom in being alone with one’s thoughts, oblivious to and unpolluted by anyone else’s. Diminish that aloneness and we start to doubt our own perspective. Do I really think Blue Bottle coffee is that great? Or Blazing Saddles that funny? Do I really not like that pizza place because it isn’t authentic New York-style? Sure, it’s entirely possible to arrive at one’s own opinion amidst a cacophony of others. But it’s also possible to bend, unknowingly and imperceptibly, toward a position not naturally our own.

Radical Sharing Works: This Guy Lets the World Use His Starbucks Card for Free [] – Accidental, experimental business model proves effective, adds unexpected value.

On July 7th, Stark loaded $30 onto his card and posted the image for his friends to use. Within hours, the money turned into caffeine and prefab sandwiches. So Stark added another $50 and invited a few more friends to see if they liked paying for things with their phones, creating an informal user experience focus group. But this time, the money didn’t vanish. People started adding money as well as spending it. And since then, it’s become an experiment in anonymous collective sharing. Buying a cup of coffee on the card becomes a special act of participation, and giving back so a stranger can do the same just feels good, and certainly better than the average frappuccino. In that way, the technology Stark created is adding value to the coffee people purchase. “Overall it’s working,” he says. Stark created a little program that would check the value on the card and post it to Twitter, so experimenters could see if there is enough for a cup o’ joe before heading out to Starbucks. More and more people joined. As of about 11 a.m. PST today, Stark said that about $3,664.24 had passed through the card.

The unholy child of anthropology and marketing? Or a great idea…or both?

Michael Cannell posted yesterday at Fast Company on design firm Blu-Dot’s fascinating new campaign, in which they are going to give away chairs by leaving them on the streets of New York, and then use GPS embedded in the chairs to track them down. According to Michael Hart of Mono, the ad firm that developed the idea with Blu-Dot:

If all goes according to plan, the video crew will use the GPS to find the chairs a few months from now. They’ll knock on doors and interview the owners–homeless people, Apartment Therapy readers, whoever they turn out to be–about why they took the chairs and how they use them. “Where does great design end up in New York? What sort of a person invites these chairs into their homes?”

Wow – there are so many layers to this. The brilliant experimental marketing layer, the Big Brother-ish invasion of privacy layer, the genius “guaranteed-to-get-talked-and-written-about” PR layer, the “no-marketing-message-included” layer reminiscent of “no-brand” brand Muji, the Chris Anderson “free” layer, and finally, the anthropological, archeological, design research find-out-where-the-chairs-go layer, which in and of itself would be a great conceptual art project or social experiment.

This project–what do you even call it? Is it a project, a campaign, an experiment?–really takes the openness and creative potential of contemporary marketing and runs with it.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Literature Magazine Offers Fiction in New Media – The founders of Electric Literature, a new quarterly literary magazine, seek nothing less than to revitalize the short story in the age of the short attention span. To do so, they allow readers to enjoy the magazine any way they like: on paper, Kindle, e-book, iPhone and, starting next month, as an audiobook. YouTube videos feature collaborations among their writers and visual artists and musicians. Starting next month, Rick Moody will tweet a story over three days.
  • French Government Offers Free Newspapers to Young Readers – Under “My Free Newspaper,” 18- to 24-year-olds will be offered a free, yearlong subscription to a newspaper of their choice.

    “Winning back young readers is essential for the financial survival of the press, and for its civic dimension,” the culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, said.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Amazon adds over 18,000 free public domain titles to Kindle Store – "It would have been nice if Amazon had thought of this tactic before launching the Kindle. But the rapid growth of the public domain library in the Kindle store is more likely a response to the fact that Sony eBook readers can access Google's massive collection of scanned public domain works. So while Amazon's 18,000 public domain downloads are a good start, Google has over half a million titles, which means Amazon still has some catching up to do."
  • Phil Patton asks about Google’s book scanning process – Nowhere in Google’s FAQs or anywhere else is there a clear answer to the question of how books are physically scanned. Whether the books are disassembled in the process of scanning. What measures are taken to avert damage to scanned books, especially to older, more fragile ones with dry bindings and acidic paper. What sort of action readers or authors can take if they encounter errors in the scanning, dating or classification.
  • One Hour Design Challenge: The Future of Digital Reading — School of Visual Arts — MFA in Interaction Design – Interaction Design students teamed up to participate in the One Hour Design Challenge: The Future of Digital Reading for Jason Santa Maria’s Communicating Design Class.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.

    (Thanks to CPT!)

  • Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
  • Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.

Cookie Monsters

I was taken aback when reading this NYT piece on Starbucks loyalty card

Jeffrey D. Lipp, president and chief executive of Chockstone. His company helps customers, including some Starbucks competitors, build and run their own loyalty programs.

What he has found is that it doesn’t take a lot to get diners, for example, to do what restaurants want. One Chockstone gambit involves using the customer’s receipt to make an offer. Return within 10 days, perhaps, and you can get a free dessert, the slip says.

“It’s amazing this stuff works so well,” Mr. Lipp said. “What we’ve found is that people can be bought for a cookie.”

Pardon? You’re an expert in loyalty, but you refer to people being bought? It’s such a Winston Smith moment when the word loyalty – in the context of companies inducing you to return – has no connection with the actual meaning of the word “A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection.” I guess brand and loyalty are completely divorced in the modern corporation.

Note: the picture above comes from our local Safeway store where I have developed an almost Pavlovian association with their free cookie box, which has sat behind the bakery counter to be reached into by slightly sneaky customers. Avoiding sweets most of the time has really pumped up the anticipation I feel when I head to Safeway to pick up groceries or visit the ATM.

So I was stunned to see the sign and realize the free ride was over. If they’ve got me making such a powerful emotional/gustatory association with visiting their store, isn’t that worth a few boxes of cookies per day?

And so, am I being bought for a cookie? I don’t know, really. But the timing of the outrageous quote in the article and the outrageous sign at Safeway suggest some dystopian cookie Happening may be upon us. I’ll keep you all posted.

If only fixing the easy problems was that easy

The problems in getting San Francisco high school students to use the separate line for free lunches in San Francisco is not surprising

Lunchtime “is the best time to impress your peers,” said Lewis Geist, a senior at Balboa and its student body president. Being seen with a free or reduced-price meal, he said, “lowers your status.”

School officials are looking at ways to encourage more poor students to accept government-financed meals, including the possibility of introducing cashless cafeterias where all students are offered the same food choices and use debit cards or punch in codes on a keypad so that all students check out at the cashier in the same manner.

Only 37 percent of eligible high school students citywide take advantage of the subsidized meal program.

Many districts have a dual system like the one at Balboa: one line for government-subsidized meals (also available to paying students) and other lines for mostly snacks and fast food for students with cash. Most of the separate lines came into being in response to a federal requirement that food of minimal nutritional value not be sold in the same place as subsidized meals – which must meet certain nutritional standards.

It’s frustrating to encounter situations when the owners of the system understand explicitly why their target customers aren’t adopting their product or service, but are unable to make the changes necessary to reach those customers. In this case, the schools are morally (and legally, perhaps) obliged to provide this service in an accessible fashion, but politics and bureaucracy get in the way. It’s not as if the schools are noting “hmm, no one seems to be eating our free lunches. We have no idea why that is. And even if we knew, we’d have no idea how to fix it!”

I first learned about wicked problems from Adam Richardson who described simple problems as those where both the problem and the solution are known, and complex problems as those where the problem is known but the solution is not. In wicked problems, neither the problem nor solution is known. Looking at the school cafeteria itself, we see a simple problem. Looking at the educational institution, there’s a likely wicked problem lurking just out of sight…why haven’t they solved the simple problem?

I’ve seen so many design student projects that solve simple problems without acknowledging the wicked problem that has prevented the adoption of similar solutions for so long. Naive designers so often believe that their solutions for simple problems are so fantastic that they will automatically be adopted but the sad truth is that the real problem isn’t about the lack of solutions.

Hot Wings

My dad received the following offer in the mail: a chance to win a free cremation. If he enters, he’ll have a chance to win each month!


They don’t specify, but I guess that must be each month until you die?

What’s especially fascinating is their connection between cremation and mobility:

“With everyone moving around these days,
placing a loved one in a ‘local’ cemetery
may not be as functional as it used to be.”

Portigal Consulting has been doing some projects recently on mobile devices, but I never thought to include cremation urns in that category.

The best part of the letter is the disclaimer at the end of the second page:

“Please accept our apologies if this letter
has reached you at a time of serious illness
or death in your family.”

How compassionate.

Free Air

No such thing as a free lunch-or practically a free anything-these days, unless you happen to be a Breatharian. A cafe in San Jose will rent you electricity for $1.00 an hour.


And in Felton, where I live, there’s a protracted struggle going on to buy the town’s water system back from California American Water, a subsidiary of the multinational company RWE. Water is generally quite abundant here (the annual average rainfall is 47.68 inches), and most of us spend time every winter battling its incursion into our living spaces. So it’s particularly ironic that we have to then purchase it from a company based in Germany.

Goodyear, on the other hand, is generous with their resources.


Breatharians eat free!

Free as in coffee

Now Bay Area Starbucks shops offer free iTunes access

The new service lets customers shop for music wirelessly through iTunes at Starbucks for free.

The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store operates on the new iPod Touch, iPhone and Wi-Fi-enabled PCs and Macs using one of the latest versions of iTunes. Users are automatically connected to the coffee shop’s wireless Internet network and can see – and purchase – the song that’s currently playing in the store. Each coffee shop is configured individually so that the song piped through the store’s speakers is the same song that appears on the front page of the user’s iTunes.

The free wireless Internet access also only applies to the iTunes Store. Consumers still need to pay to access any other parts of the Web through Starbucks’ partnership with T-Mobile.

This is just terrible writing. Access to the iTunes store is free? How is that newsworthy? There’s news to be had here, but spinning up the free angle is just ludicrous. Did the journalist just swallow the press release and not really think about what new service was? Need they also point out that Starbucks provides free parking, restrooms, and now oxygen?

A firehose in your ear

You can (with a single download) get 739 mp3s by 739 artists from the SXSW festival. That’s a lot of music. As someone points out
on MetaFilter that’s over 37 hours of music. Someone else bemoans the organizational task that will create (I’m about to do that task myself).

I downloaded about half as many songs last year, and I really enjoyed them, but it’s an intimidating-if-wonderful gift.

Our digital technologies and the massive capabilities they afford us still continue to exceed or at least push the edges of our capacity as consumers. Indeed, the word consume may hold a clue. Do we consume music? Eat it up, digest it, and excrete/delete when we are done, or are we collectors, accumulating more and more? I imagine many of us are in straddle positions, not being ready to delete an MP3, or many MP3s, because we already possess them.

Update: am slowly working through listening to the songs…some real quality control issues with their distribution. One track with a skip in it, and about two dozen that are seriously truncated.

Nice freebie

Our Courtyard by Marriott in Houston had a nice little freebie – they would take a business card and laminate it into a luggage tag, while you waited. I appreciated the free thing and I got a kick out of the fact that it was travel-related; it reinforced the experience you were having with them. Just a clever customer service thing that someone decided to do.


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