Amazon’s Alexa: The Ultimate ‘Marshmallow’ Test?

Jenna Wortham: “There’s a theory that behavioral economists use to explain our consumption habits called ‘hyperbolic discounting,’ which is the tendency to choose short-term rewards over long-term gains. The ‘marshmallow test’ of the 1960s tested the ability of preschoolers to resist temptation — the titular marshmallow, within reach — with the promise that they would be rewarded with two if they waited.”

“In the experiment’s most popular interpretation, those who had self-control grew up to be much more successful than those who did not. It is one of the most formative studies in self-control and how people make decisions.”

“Alexa is the ultimate marshmallow test, and most of us are failing. We are being conditioned, as a population, to never wait, to never delay our gratification, to accept thoughtless, constant consumption as the new norm. But how we think about consumption and willpower carry enormous implications for the environment and the culture of society as a whole. Think about that the next time you ask Alexa to order you another roll of toilet paper.”


American Airlines Has a ‘Nutty’ Idea

The New York Times: “Tensions between passengers with food allergies and airline staff members have risen in recent years, as airlines have begun to enforce stricter rules related to preboarding passengers. In the past, parents of young children could board the plane early, giving them a chance to wipe down seats, trays and armrests to reduce exposure to allergens. But today many airlines have stopped letting families with children board before other passengers.”

“When families request permission to preboard — or pose another request, such as asking whether nuts will be served — they risk being taken off the flight or threatened with removal … Two formal complaints filed with the Department of Transportation in the last month accuse American Airlines of discrimination against passengers with allergies. The complaints cite the airline’s preboarding policy, which prohibits preboarding specifically for people with allergies, and not for others.”

“Although nobody tracks medical emergencies on airplanes, studies show that in-flight medical emergencies are relatively uncommon and affect only a fraction of the estimated 3.6 billion passengers who fly each year … Allergic reactions make up fewer than 4 percent of all in-flight medical emergencies.”


Delaktig: IKEA’s ‘Open-Source’ Sofa

The Wall Street Journal: IKEA “plans to roll out soon what it calls its first ‘open source’ sofa—a piece of furniture designed to be easily customized to fit a space, or change functions entirely over time. Customers can clip on a lamp, or side table, or in a few minutes, turn the sofa into a bed. The Delaktig, Swedish for ‘being part of something,’ is expected to hit stores in early 2018.”

“The company hopes third-party designers will spring up to create complementary products that can clip onto the piece, or modify its use … The move is a further embrace of a trend the world’s largest furniture maker has been quietly encouraging for years. It has long inspired an online community of ‘hackers’ who share ideas for how to modify IKEA products.”

“The concept is part of a broader push at IKEA to cater to the world’s fast-expanding urban population, living in increasingly cramped spaces. It has accelerated a push to design products intended to maximize space, including multipurpose furniture and indoor hydroponic units. IKEA said Delaktig was inspired by Apple Inc., which helped create today’s app universe by allowing developers to create them for the iPhone. The company said it is also taking a page from the car industry, building a common, resilient platform upon which to create different models.”


The Volta V: A Return to Wooden Computers

The Wall Street Journal: “The Volta V, available next month, is a simple-but-elegant, wood-encased desktop model … It’s made by Computer Direct Outlet, a ‘small-batch’ manufacturer based in Greenville, S.C. Although the Volta V’s enclosure is decidedly low tech—made of either bamboo or walnut—the computer is packed with the latest technology: a high-end motherboard, graphics card and solid-state hard drive; 4K video and liquid cooling are options for all models. (It’s up to you to keep this thing classy with your choice of monitor, keyboard and mouse.)”

“The case of the Volta V pops open easily to allow you to swap out components to your heart’s desire … Need a larger hard drive to store all of the videos you shot on vacation? With the Volta V, that’s no problem. Just remove the case’s cover (it’s held in place with strong magnets, so no tools are required), then disconnect the old drive and attach the new one. All components are spread out on one level for easy access.”



Walmart Luxury: $6.96 Wine Gets 95 Points

The Washington Post: “The label for La Moneda Malbec Reserva 2015 from Chile looks like nothing special, until you notice the small decal on the side touting 95 points and a platinum medal from Decanter magazine … So last fall, Walmart introduced the La Moneda Malbec into 577 of its 4,600 or so U.S. stores, priced at $6.96 a bottle.”

“They bring it into the United States through their importer to various distributors, who speed the product through the three-tier distribution network at minimal cost. Because the wine is going exclusively to one store’s various outlets, there’s no marketing cost to build the brand and fight for shelf space. (Though someone at Walmart was smart enough to enter the malbec into the Decanter competition and then market its triumph for all it was worth.)”

“Once in the store, the wine receives prime placement on the shelf — at eye level, or a coveted end-of-aisle display — alongside California chardonnays and merlots that also don’t have the store name on the label but are available nowhere else. National brands are often relegated to less-visible, harder-to-reach shelves.”


Nike Luxury: It Means Better Service

Business Insider: “For anyone who has recently bought Nike shoes or apparel, or walked into one of its latest stores, this won’t be news: Nike has slid upscale recently … The brand’s promotional efforts skew towards its newest and greatest inventions, as well as its more expensive offerings.”

“More recently, Nike has signaled a different approach to welcoming customers into its stores. Its new store in New York’s Soho neighborhood offers customers the opportunity to make one-on-one appointments with Nike staff … Customers can bring in all kinds of concerns for the staff to help with … The store also has areas where customers can test out its shoes and equipment in an ‘immersive experience.’ It represents a shift in how the company sees brick-and-mortar retail, and is being called a guide for future stores from the brand.”

“Nike clearly believes that an elevated price point also means elevated service, and it’s headed full speed in that direction. As Nike places a larger emphasis on its direct-to-consumer division, it’s also taking greater care of how it is perceived by customers, as well as how it interacts with those customers.”


Quick Tour of an ‘Old Style’ Chicago Bar

WBEZ: “Why are there so many Old Style beer signs in the city of Chicago? Just on our own we counted 69 bars with Old Style signs, and there are likely more. You don’t run into the same plethora of Old Style signs in New York, or Los Angeles, or — I don’t know — Omaha … A lot of Chicagoans love these signs. There are photos of them all over Instagram and an entire blog devoted to tracking them.”

“Old Style was first brewed in 1902 by the Wisconsin-based G. Heileman Brewing Company, and became available in Chicago by the 1930s. But the connection between the brand and Chicago wasn’t really sealed until 1950, when Old Style started sponsoring the Cubs. Getting into Wrigley Field was big.” Beer historian Liz Garibay explains: “Here you are, sitting in this iconic place, in this iconic city, drinking this particular beer. People started to build a little more brand loyalty to it then.”

“The signs came about in the 1970s. That’s when Old Style began giving them out for free to bars they’d done a lot of business with, even paying crews to install them. It was a win-win: Old Style got to assert its brand, while bar owners got a bright shiny light to lure in customers. Other brands also handed out signs, but not nearly as many as Old Style.”


Porky Lights: The Beatlemania of Diet Sausages

The Guardian: “Look out of your window and you may notice we’re living in the midst of the sausage equivalent of Beatlemania – supermarkets selling out as slimmers bulk buy, arguments in the aisles over the last box.”

“Launched late last year, Porky Lights were not an immediate success, selling just 2,000 units a week. Then dieters’ club Slimming World decided to award the Porky Light just half a ‘syn’ on their points table – by comparison, regular bangers are five syns. Slimming Worlders soon realised that, at a 10-times multiple, swapping-out bacon for Porkys meant that the full English breakfast could become a human right rather than an aspiration. Surrey-based manufacturer G White’s reckon it is now shifting 170,000 a week, and supply remains tight.”

“The notion of a diet sausage may appear confusing, but the basic idea has been around for a while. ‘It’s just that most of them aren’t very nice,’ explains Chris Price, managing director of G White & Co … Price is reluctant to talk about exactly what in the manufacturing process makes these different, admitting only that: ‘It’s a third-generation family business. So, these are flavour profiles we’ve had access to for years, and this one seemed to fit.’ Price assures us the key ingredient remains pork, but at 78 calories apiece, the other ingredient may well be voodoo.”


Hotel Thermostats: Out of (Your) Control

The Wall Street Journal: First the elevator-door buttons, now this: “It’s not your imagination. Hotel thermostats often aren’t under your control. Unknowing guests around the world are left to push thermostats up and down in vain. Fixing the problem requires a degree—or six or seven—as well as a bit of a mischievous streak.”

“One Tumblr blog, thermostatbypass, collects bypass instructions. Travelers have posted YouTube videos on various thermostat models. A Disney hotel discussion board also has thermostat bypass instructions. On some Inncom thermostats, for example, hold down Display then tap Off then tap the Up arrow. That puts the unit in VIP mode, giving control back to the occupant … Overall, hotels say new systems increase guest comfort and reduce costs … The New York Hilton has a system that keeps unoccupied rooms at 78 degrees and then automatically sets the thermostat to 74 when a guest checks in. The system cools the room down in about 5 minutes.”

“Thermostat issues don’t rank high in Expedia or TripAdvisor hotel complaints. But some travelers are plenty hot. A reviewer of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Northeast in Wichita, Kan., complained of having to get up and wave at the thermostat. ‘This is a horrible way to treat a guest.’ The hotel responded saying the thermostat vendor ‘assured us that this will not be a problem.’ But after the complaint, the hotel decided to disable the motion sensors.”


Lather Rinse Repeat: Netflix Finds Its ‘Tipping Point’

Wired: “In 2016, Netflix spent $5 billion on original programming. Five of the 10 shows people searched for most often last year are Netflix originals … Eager to build on that, Netflix plans to spend $6 billion creating 1000 hours of new content this year, more than doubling its 2016 lineup. At this point, it’s clear Netflix isn’t just a streaming service anymore. ‘For many millions of consumers around the world, Netflix has already become television,’ says Tony Gunnarsson, a television analyst with Ovum.”

“Tony Wible, a Drexel Hamilton analyst, argues that Netflix has a sound business model, one best described as, Spend so aggressively that you dominate, making it impossible for anyone to compete … He expects Netflix to monetize existing subscriptions by doing things like adopting higher pricing tiers for 4K content. And you can bet it will keep cranking out premium original content. After all, it isn’t a single show that hooks new subscribers all over the world. It’s a solid lineup of remarkable programming like The Crown and Gilmore Girls and Black Mirror.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings comments: “Very few people will join Netflix for just one title. But there’s a tipping point, one more title you’re hearing about, that causes you to join.” In other words, as Hastings says: “Lather, rinse, repeat.”