Plants or Petroleum: The ‘Natural’ Difference Isn’t Clear

The Wall Street Journal: “Many retailers and consumer products companies classify their products as natural if some of their ingredients were originally sourced from plant-based materials. But the top ingredients in many natural or ‘green’ consumer goods aren’t that different from mainstream products, whose ingredients often come from petroleum-based sources … The main ingredients in Tom’s of Maine Simply White toothpaste, for instance—including sodium fluoride, hydrated silica, sorbitol and sodium lauryl sulfate—are also in some types of Colgate toothpaste. Tom’s of Maine, which says all its ingredients ‘originate from nature,’ is owned by Colgate-Palmolive Co.”

“Whole Foods Markets Inc. last fall started selling a new brand of laundry detergent called Nature’s Power, whose green bottle claims the product is made ‘with plant-derived soaps.’ Its top active ingredient, a commonly used cleaning agent called sodium laureth sulfate, is found in plenty of its mainstream peers, including Arm & Hammer, which like Nature’s Power is made by Church & Dwight Co. Sodium laureth sulfate can be produced from coconut oil, palm oil or petroleum. ‘It is the same chemical compound, regardless of what it’s derived from,’ says Clarence Miller, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University in Houston.”

“While the Food and Drug Administration regulates foods and personal-care products and requires detailed ingredient labeling, it isn’t clear who is checking the labels of household products or the contents of bottles … The use of term “organic” is more closely regulated. Makers of household cleaners that label their products organic must have their ingredients certified by an independent body that follows guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

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The Incredibly Shrinking Netflix

Quartz: “No, you haven’t gone crazy. Netflix’s catalog of movies and TV shows really is shrinking. The streaming service’s library for American subscribers has shrunk by a third since 2014, according to a report by AllFlicks, a website that lists and categorizes Netflix content by country … In total, US Netflix has lost 32% of its titles in a little over two years.”

“Netflix may be getting rid of a lot of the older (most of it obscure) content that subscribers weren’t watching in the first place. That doesn’t explain why lots of great movies have left Netflix in the last few years, but it might explain, in sheer, raw numbers, why the US Netflix catalog has dropped a third of its weight since 2014.”

“While US Netflix might be shrinking, it still has a lot more content than the rest of the world … The reason is that securing international streaming rights to shows and movies is exceedingly difficult—laws and regulations differ by country, as does the type of content that people around the world consume.”

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Netflix Throttles Customers For Their Own Good

The Wall Street Journal: “Netflix, a leading proponent of open-Internet rules, has been lowering the quality of its video for customers watching its service on AT&T or Verizon Communications wireless networks” Netflix says the throttling is in the best interests of its customers because it protects them “from exceeding mobile data caps … Watching two hours of HD video on Netflix would consume up to 6 gigabytes of data, Netflix says. That is an entire month’s allowance under an $80 a month Verizon plan.”

“Netflix said it doesn’t limit its video quality at two carriers: T-Mobile and Sprint Corp., because ‘historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies.’ When customers exceed their data plans on Sprint or T-Mobile, the carriers usually slow their network connections, rather than charge overage fees.” Jim Cicconi of AT&T says the carrier is ‘outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent.’ Jan Ozer, a consultant … said Netflix’s strategy is a smart one,” but suggests they should be more “upfront” about it.

“The issue came to light after T-Mobile US Inc.’s chief executive last week said Verizon and AT&T customers were receiving lower-quality Netflix streams. The carriers denied throttling Netflix videos. The fact that Netflix, not the carriers, is responsible for the lower quality illustrates the dilemma mobile-app makers face with data caps.”

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The Uber Model Isn’t Uber Great for Others

“Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything … But Uber’s success was in many ways unique,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service.”

“The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. Many people take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.”

“But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins … Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders … The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.”

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Kaiser Re-Designs The Health Care Experience

Fast Company: “The exam room is part of Kaiser Permanente’s championing of a new human-centered, design-driven approach to medicine—and its vision for the future of health care delivery … The experience starts with the waiting rooms, which take their cues from retail and hospitality. At the Manhattan Beach outpost, the vibe is warm, West Coast modernism: There’s lots of wood, natural light, and inviting touches, such as a living wall of green plants. A pair of ATM–like kiosks near the front door allow members to check themselves in if they prefer not to wait for the tablet-wielding receptionist.”

Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson: “The culture of health care has been to get you in and out. We’re inviting you to linger. This is more than a physician visit; this is about your total health.”

“In larger facilities, the reception area will be reimagined as a kind of public square, where patients can wander while they wait, getting free information on nutrition and exercise from staff at a counter called the Thrive Bar. They can also take part in yoga classes, cooking demos, and the other programming that Kaiser is incorporating into ‘community rooms,’ which span both indoor and outdoor space … Kaiser’s new spaces are also about keeping costs low: They are designed to be more efficient at serving patients … Just as important for Kaiser, the hubs will serve as physical anchors for a model of care that aims to move health services, as much as possible, out of hospitals and medical offices and into members’ communities and homes.”

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Broad Museum Broadens Its Appeal for Millennials

“Since opening six months ago,” The Broad Museum in Los Angeles “has attracted a decidedly youthful crowd,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “The Broad’s appeal to young people starts with colorful edgy art, such as Jeff Koons’ glaring, gold-hued sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp, Bubbles, and Takashi Murakami’s psychedelic-looking, dancing mushrooms. The museum is also located downtown, increasingly an entertainment and nightlife hub. And it’s free.”

Younger people “seem to be more willing to wait hours in line than their elders … Indeed, the standby line — typically a 45-minute wait on weekdays, twice that on weekends — is a bustling social scene, with spirited attendees exchanging snacks, gossip and cellphone numbers with new friends … Many of the young people in line say they found out about the Broad from social media. Seeing the fun that friends were having from afar, in pictures and videos, they didn’t want to fall prey to FOMO (fear of missing out).”

Visitors “can make reservations on iPads for timed entry to special exhibits, and the museum will text people back when they may enter … Instead of security guards, the Broad has ‘visitor service associates’ who roam the galleries and are happy to chat about the art as well as to point people to the nearest restroom … Of the more than 400,000 people who have streamed through the Broad’s doors so far, 6 out of 10 said their ethnicity was other than Caucasian and 70% were younger than 34.”

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Saturn & The Great Cosmic Joke

Remember Saturn? Jean Thompson does, in The New York Times: “The dealerships offered no-haggle pricing, and emphasized customer-friendly service. When you bought a Saturn, back in those palmy days, the dealer took a picture of you posing next to your new vehicle, wearing a Saturn hat, and perhaps a Saturn T-shirt. You were part of the Saturn family. Yes! There were even Saturn Homecomings where owners drove their cars back to Spring Hill to celebrate the Saturn experience.”

“But G.M. didn’t do right by Saturn. All the upbeat advertising in the world couldn’t seem to make up for some design missteps and lack of resources. The last Saturn was manufactured in 2009.” Jean has been driving her then-new Saturn since 2001. Now, she writes: “For so long the car has been my Millennium Falcon, my African Queen. Those battered but indomitable embodiments of disreputable romance, with hidden reserves of performance for anyone skilled enough to pilot them … One recent morning the emergency brake light came on and a warning began chiming, one last spasm of its softening automotive brain.”

She continues: “It’s only a car, and there’s no point in being sentimental. After all, the universe is organized around the principle of entropy. Systems decay, institutions and landmarks we took for granted vanish, swept over a precipice: the Saturn brand, the Republican Party, the glaciers of Greenland. Ah, love, let us be true to one another! Let us make our stand against the implacable forces that hasten the end of all worthy things. Let us fight the good fight, look our fate unflinchingly in the eye, die with a hammer in our hands. Let us go car shopping.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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