Nokia 3210 & The Mobile Revolution

Slate: “In the late 1990s … There was no launch event for the Nokia 3210, and few major publications bothered to review it. In retrospect, however, it may have done as much to spark the mobile revolution as any handset in history. The 3210 and its successors redefined the role of technology in our lives, not through feats of engineering so much as feats of marketing and design. By rethinking the configuration of key components in the phone and paying attention to how young people were using it, they took something awkward and ungainly and made it simple and chic.”

“In an industry first, the designers made both the front and back covers easily removable, so users could match their phone’s appearance to their taste, their outfit, or even their mood … Third parties around the world began producing custom covers for the device, and mobile-phone retailers began using those brightly colored pieces of plastic to catch the eye of customers … Embracing its role as a toy and not just a utility, Nokia installed on the phone a simple but infamously addictive game called Snake … For the first time, the phone began to double as a personal entertainment device, a way to pass the time when you had nothing else to do.”

“The company announced the 3210 on March 18, 1999, calling it ‘a mobile phone for ultimate convenience and personalization’ and launching a marketing campaign aimed at a much younger audience than was typical for the industry. It went on to sell some 160 million units, making it one of the best-selling phones of all time. No iPhone has ever been that popular. It helped Nokia surpass Motorola as the world’s leading mobile-phone manufacturer, a title it held until Samsung finally eclipsed it in 2012.”

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The Day The Phonecall Died

Slate: “The phone call died, according to Nielsen, in the autumn of 2007. During the final three months of that year the average monthly number of texts sent on mobile phones (218) exceeded, for the first time in recorded history, the average monthly number of phone calls (213). A frontier had been crossed. The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech.”

“The phone call always was an invasive form of communication, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that as soon as a plausible substitute presented itself we grabbed it … But this new freedom came at the cost something precious: the human voice. Texting is more stilted and less spontaneous than speech … Anger is difficult to convey properly in a text, compared to the hallowed method of shouting into a phone and slamming the receiver down … The phone smash came in especially handy when you got the runaround from customer service. But today ‘customer service’ means you send email or a text into a void where no one can hear you scream.”

“Perhaps a hardy band of artisans in Brooklyn or Venice, California, will revive the telephone call as a boutique ritual, much as they’ve revived the playing of vinyl records on turntables. Perhaps Google, once it’s perfected the self-driving automobile, will automate text messaging, allowing our cellphones to communicate without any human intervention at all.”

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Cracker Barrel Tries ‘Hipster’ Makeover

USA Today: “You might be surprised to find fashion-forward apparel and wooden platters hand carved by artisans in the Philippines next to Yankee Candles and Christmas decorations at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. But the restaurant chain known for Southern food and homey gift shops filled with trinkets has slowly expanded its retail mix to lure a new, much younger demographic.”

“It’s quite a change for the 641-unit chain started 47 years ago as a single store on Highway 109 in Lebanon, Tenn. Cracker Barrel’s attempt to reinvigorate its brand is visible across departments, from its use of social media platform Snapchat for marketing purposes to exclusive music releases with hot pop groups like Needtobreathe. Lately, younger shoppers have been drawn to the vintage soda wall with options that include Southern soft drink brand Cheerwine and Ale-8-One, artisan home decor, stained-glass lamps, retro T-shirts and vintage candies like Necco Wafers and Double Bubble.”

“The tricky part of the effort is attracting younger customers without putting off the older ones … The move to attract Millennials comes as Cracker Barrel faces the same dilemmas as many other traditional restaurant chains: a growing consumer preference for more casual dining concepts.”

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Lucky Charms Finds ‘Natural’ Flavors Elusive

Business Insider: “General Mills scientists still haven’t figured out how to phase out artificial flavors and colors in Lucky Charms without ruining the iconic cereal.” Mills “already pulled it off with Trix, at least in part. In that case, they used mixtures of radish, carrot, blueberry, tumeric, and annatto seed to create red, yellow, orange, and purple corn puffs. Part of the challenge is that each of those natural colors brings in some flavor too. The team abandoned the green and blue puffs after deciding they couldn’t reach those hues without ruining the taste.”

“Lucky Charms, a cereal that includes with colorful marshmallows, has proven more difficult. First, it’s easier to distort the flavor of a marshmallow than a corn puff … Second, Lucky Charms already have a subtler flavor than bold, fruity Trix. It’s so subtle, consumers struggle to define it.”

“Lucky Charms also supposedly trigger powerful feelings of nostalgia … Steve Witherly, PhD writes in “Why Humans Love Junk Food” that the vanilla aroma of marshmallows is one of the few flavors that the brain doesn’t get bored of. Moreover, it ‘may be imprinted soon after birth’ since vanilla is the main flavor of breast milk and infant formula.”

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Grass-Fed Beef: Not a ‘Luxury’ Anymore

The Wall Street Journal: “Grass-fed beef, once a niche luxury, is now sold at ballgames, convention centers and nearly every Wal-Mart in the U.S. Beef labeled as grass-fed connotes much more than cattle that were raised in a pasture, say grocers and restaurateurs. Many consumers perceive grass-fed beef as a healthier, higher-quality alternative to conventional beef and are willing to pay more for it, no matter that labeling—and flavor—can be inconsistent.”

“Not every retailer is onboard. Costco Wholesale Corp., the country’s second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, doesn’t sell grass-fed beef, though it sells organic ground beef in every U.S. store. The definition of grass-fed beef is still too ambiguous, the taste too inconsistent and Costco consumers gravitate most to an ‘organic’ label for now, says Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods.”

“Theo Weening, Whole Foods’ global meat coordinator, expects demand for grass-fed beef to grow well beyond human appetites. ‘When a customer likes grass-fed beef and they have a dog, they want the dog to have grass-fed beef, too,’ he says.”

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Singing The Cyberspace Blues

The Washington Post: “Recently, the designer Paul Hebert began tracking the color palettes of the world’s largest website … On the world’s 10 most popular websites, shades of blue and turquoise outnumber other colors by a factor of two.”

“It’s a small sample size, of course … but it was enough to prompt Wired to name blue the web’s ‘most popular color,’ and it’s validated an age-old design observation. Everything on the Internet is blue. Blue homepages, blue windows. Blue is the color of Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Microsoft, whitehouse.gov, WordPress and Pandora … among others.”

“Anecdotally, Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook is blue because he’s red-green colorblind, and Google has said the color clicked best in rigorous A/B tests. But the underlying reason may be that design, like art, imitates life — and in life, we like the color blue best … Repeat global surveys have found that blue is the most-preferred color among both men and women, more or less regardless of country.”

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Kola House: Pepsi Pushes Cola Buzz

The Wall Street Journal: Pepsi’s Kola House, a new bar in NY’s Meatpacking District is mixing kola nuts “into cocktails such as the Curcuma, billed as an ‘enhancing appetizer of African and arabesque aromatics’ with turmeric, lemon and honeydew, and the Kola Love, a ‘dessert elixir and libido enhancer’ with red wine, vanilla and whipped cream. ‘We like to give people a flavor experience they haven’t had before,’ said Kola House flavor chemist Alex Ott, who trained as a biochemist in Germany.”

“Beverage-industry observers say companies like PepsiCo … are making a push into the bar scene, particularly in the all-important New York market, to reconnect with consumers who have lost interest in sugary sodas. Bars are ‘a great place if you want to get soft drinks in front of millennials,’ said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.”

“The cola buzz is also being driven by bartenders who see it as a way to jolt cocktails with flavor, reminiscent of the complex, heavily spiced cola drinks of the 19th century. Q Drinks’s Kola soda, for example, incorporates cloves, nutmeg, coriander and citrus, among other ingredients. The flavor is tangy, sweet and savory, said Jordan Silbert, the company’s founder and chief executive, but also familiar.”

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Curated Retail: The Museum Gift-Shop Experience

The Washington Post: “In the vast Heritage Hall of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, employees are shelving funky sculptural dolls whose hair has been twisted and seams have been finished by local artist Francine Haskins … The museum’s retail operation is an excellent example of how the once-cheesy, forgettable gift shop has become a formidable institution-within-an-institution.”

“Once, books and exhibition catalogues were the lifeblood of museum shops. These days, most stores aim to balance academic tomes with splurge-y tchotchkes and pieces inspired by the curators’ carefully cultivated collections … ‘I tell our curators that just as you curate the museum, we curate the store,’ says Stuart Hata, president of the board of the Museum Store Association. ‘We’re not a gift shop, we’re not a bookstore,’ he says. ‘Our mission is to reflect the institution. It’s to reflect our collections’.”

“The new African American Museum will feature a host of specialty items made expressly for its shop. Blingy gold keychains, magnets, cuff links and brooches have been designed to subtly echo the venue’s latticework corona … And then there are those specially selected objects made by artists from across the country.” Ed Howell, the Smithsonian Institution’s senior vice president of retail, “hopes that shoppers will find their way to those pieces, and from them to the artisans … But more important, their work ‘makes the shop unique, and the visitor’s experience unique’.”

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Art of Lodging: Hotels Offer Artists in Residence

The New York Times: “As hotels work harder to distinguish themselves in the age of Airbnb, many have focused on using local art to give their décor a one-of-a-kind look. But with artist-in-residence programs, some hotels in the United States and abroad are going further, aiming to make the art experience even more immersive for guests.”

“Under the programs, artists are often paid to stay and work at the hotels, letting guests interact with them and gain insights into their creations that go far beyond what a visit to museum or gallery can impart … At the Vendue in Charleston, S.C., the current artist is Fred Jamar … Most of the time he works in a studio on the ground floor that guests are encouraged to visit. On Thursday evenings, he paints during dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, the Drawing Room.”

“Residencies are not limited to visual artists. At the Hotel El Ganzo in San José del Cabo, Mexico, the artist-in-residence program has included visual artists and musicians who record in the hotel’s 1,700-square-foot studio and perform for guests on the hotel’s roof.” At a hotel in Tuscany, “residencies include a jazz vocalist, an opera singer and choreographer, a set and costume designer and a neurologist, who will give lectures.”

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Sweet Success: Mushrooms, Chocolate & Sugar

Business Insider: “Inside a lab in Aurora, Colorado, scientists at Mycotechnology have been trying to figure out a way to replace sugar with mushrooms. Certain mushrooms, the logic goes, can take away bitterness and naturally sweeten foods, like coffee and chocolate. The startup has most recently engineered a dark chocolate bar (with 8 grams of sugar and 293 calories) that has had about 66% of its sugar replaced with mushrooms.”

“When the chocolate hits your tongue, according to Mycotechnology, the mushroom extract acts as a bitterness shield. The chocolate’s bitter molecules don’t bind with your taste buds, so you don’t perceive them … To develop the chocolate bar, Mycotechnology worked with chocolatiers from Utah-based artisan manufacturer Amano. It sells at an artisanal price tag, too — a pack of 6 two-ounce bars is available online for $30 … Mycotechnology is now working on eliminating 99% of chocolate’s added sugar using mushrooms.”

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