‘Amateur’ Drinkers Favor ‘Fake’ Wine

The New York Times: “The gap between fine wine and commercial wine is shrinking as producers use chemical shortcuts not only to avoid blatant flaws, but also to mimic high-end bottles. They can replicate the effects of oak for a fraction of the price of real barrels, correct for inferior climates and keep quality high in crummy vintages.” Wine critic Jancis Robinson comments: “It is one of the ironies of the wine market today that just as the price differential between cheapest and most expensive bottles is greater than ever before, the difference in quality between these two extremes is probably narrower than it has ever been.”

“In 2007, it was the rare mass-market bottle that could meet the minimum score that Tragon, a market research firm, considered necessary for a product to be viable. In tasting panels, drinkers choked down these wines, assigning them the same low ratings as spinach and peas. Now panelists routinely award these bottles the same top scores as high-end ice cream.”

“Research shows that experts and consumers disagree on what makes for a delicious bottle. A study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, for example, gave amateur and trained tasters 27 wines to rate, and determined that the ‘liking patterns’ of consumers are in some instances exactly ‘opposite to experts’ quality perceptions’ … There is an irony to oenophiles’ definition of quality: What they deem “bad” wine is really wine that tastes good, at least to large numbers of drinkers … At the very least, these mass-market bottles are an invitation to people who might otherwise never pick up a glass.”

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Cassette Comeback: Blame it on Bieber

The Wall Street Journal: “Sales figures for streaming music and even vinyl may dwarf those of cassettes, but the format still thrives: An estimated 129,000 tapes sold last year, up from 74,000 the year before, according to Nielsen Music.Blame the resurgence, in part, on Justin Bieber. So says Gigi Johnson, director of UCLA’s Center for Music Innovation. When the heartthrob released a cassette version of his Grammy-nominated album “Purpose” in 2016, more than 1,000 copies of the retro iteration sold (a relatively significant sum).”

“Among the labels duping new releases to tape will be Anticon Records … Its manager Shaun Koplow has long appreciated cassettes, despite their demise in the ’90s. He said he finds that vinyl offers the best sound quality and that streaming is the most convenient—but when he gets home after a long day, he often reaches for cassette.” He explains: “Cassette tapes demand that you’re patient. You’re not going to be skipping tracks as you would on your phone. It’s nice to have something to force you to relax.”

“Indeed, anyone can create and share a playlist with a few clicks on Spotify. But the instantly shareable, streamed compilation will never be as meaningful as a handmade mixtape … Although audiophiles have never embraced the cassette for its audio quality the way they have vinyl records, the format does imbue music with a subtle hiss and other audio vestiges that appeal to the discerning.” And: “Getting into cassettes, unlike vinyl, is relatively inexpensive: Even high-end players cost less than $150.”

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Monarch Airlines: It’s Cool To Be Kind

Quartz: “British budget carrier Monarch Airlines is offering free perks, like early boarding or seats with extra legroom, to travelers who are ‘nice’ to its call center staff. The incentives don’t cost the airline much. Early boarding on Monarch costs £5 ($6) and an extra legroom can cost around £10 ($12).”

“Even if you played well with others at school, don’t get your hopes up for that upgrade. The airline will only offer these politeness perks on a maximum of 10 bookings a week and only if the traveler rings the call center. So it’s tough luck for those who are left to resort to contacting the airline on Twitter because no one is answering.”

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Walmart & The Uneven Rise of E-Commerce

The Washington Post: “According to new data, the rise of online shopping across the United States is rather uneven, with more affluent states marching more quickly toward a lifestyle in which buying happens on a screen instead of at the mall … Look, for example, at Alaska and Hawaii, which are affluent states that don’t fit the pattern of having strong per-person online spending … this likely reflects the fact that shipping to those states can be pricey and relatively slow — factors that make online shopping less attractive.

“The data also offers hints that perhaps our varied adoption of online shopping is not just about relative affluence, but other lifestyle factors. Take, for example, how much the District of Columbia stands out in the data set. It’s a city, and its growth and spending look much different than in any of the 50 states … perhaps the gap is telling us that urbanites, in general, have migrated to online shopping much faster than their counterparts in less densely populated areas. After all, there are unique pain points to brick-and-mortar shopping in cities: Checkout lines at high-traffic stores can be excruciatingly long. Nabbing an on-street parking spot can feel like a miracle. Many city residents don’t own a car, and it can be hard to lug purchases on public transit or on foot.”

“Similarly, people sometimes ask .. how Walmart, for example, could possibly be sustaining over 4,000 U.S. stores in the digital era. This data helps explain that: You may see a tower of Amazon boxes in your big-city condo building each evening, but that isn’t a good proxy for how people are shopping in, say, rural Tennessee. Even if you’re personally doing less of it these days, there is still enormous appetite for shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.”

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Are Smartphones Worse Than Drugs?

The New York Times: “Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones? The possibility is worth exploring, they say, because use of smartphones and tablets has exploded over the same period that drug use has declined. This correlation does not mean that one phenomenon is causing the other, but scientists say interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence.”

“Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying … Though smartphones seem ubiquitous in daily life, they are actually so new that researchers are just beginning to understand what the devices may do to the brain. Researchers say phones and social media not only serve a primitive need for connection but can also create powerful feedback loops Alexandra Elliott, 17, a senior at George Washington High School in San Francisco, said using her phone for social media ‘really feels good’ in a way consistent with a ‘chemical release.’ A heavy phone user who smokes marijuana occasionally, Alexandra said she didn’t think the two were mutually exclusive.”

“However, she said, the phone provides a valuable tool for people at parties who don’t want to do drugs because ‘you can sit around and look like you’re doing something, even if you’re not doing something, like just surfing the web’.” Eric Elliott, “who has counseled young people for 19 years, said he had seen a decrease in drug and alcohol use among students in recent years. He said he was ‘more likely to have a challenge with a student who has a video game addiction than I am a student who is addicted to drugs’ … In the case of his own daughter, he worried more about the device than the drugs.” He explains: “I see her at this point and time as not being a person who is controlled in any way by smoking pot, but her phone is something she sleeps with.”

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Edible Regimen: Food as Beauty Products

The Wall Street Journal: “A blurring of the lines between food and beauty products has some shoppers raiding their kitchen cabinets to replace everything from blush and lip plumper to deodorant and conditioner. The trend has people rubbing mayonnaise in their hair, lemon juice in their armpits and pork fat on their face. Erica Strauss said she buys a pig every year from a local farmer in Seattle. In addition to cooking chops and roast, the 37-year-old chef renders the fat into lard for use on her hands and face … Other animal grease can also be used to substitute for hand cream, though she doesn’t recommend bacon.” She explains: “It’s way too smelly. Every dog in the neighborhood will come up and lick you.”

“The idea of using edibles in a beauty regimen dates back centuries. Cleopatra is believed to have bathed in milk. Mary, Queen of Scots, is said to have washed herself in white wine. The Romans and Greeks doused their bodies in olive oil. In a memorable scene from the 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire, actor Robin Williams dunks his face into meringue cake to mask his identity as a man.”

“Beauty companies, too, are blurring the lines between kitchen and bath. They tout food ingredients on the labels of everything from shampoo to nail polish. Some are putting makeup in containers that resemble condiment jars or making creams that look like hors d’oeuvres … Organic beauty companies insist that using food isn’t as easy as rubbing apple juice on your face … Faz Abdul Gaffa has learned the hard way. She tried rubbing turmeric on her face after hearing about its skin-brightening qualities. She ended up with yellow stained palms for several days.” And her face? “I looked jaundiced,” she said.

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Gummy Pills: Helps The Vitamins Go Down

The New York Times: One reason gummy vitamins are so popular with adults these days is “pill fatigue.” A 2005 AARP study found that, on average, adults 45 and older said they take four prescription medications daily. But some people say that switching to a gummy version of a vitamin or supplement makes them feel as if they aren’t taking so many pills. Gummies also appeal to people who … have difficulty swallowing pills. The flavorings in gummy candy can also hide the taste.”

“But the pleasures of chewing come at a cost. Consumers can take one Nature Made Vitamin C 1,000 milligram pill costing about 10 cents … To get the same amount of vitamin C from a Nature Made gummy vitamin, consumers would need to take eight gummies, at a cost of about 70 cents … And gummy vitamins typically contain one to two grams of sugar each.”

Susan Pica agrees. Ms. Pica, 40, … saw a gummy vitamin C display at CVS, along with a coupon to ‘buy one get one free.’ She had fond memories of the Flintstones chewables she took as a child, so she thought she’d try them … After seeing sugar sprinkled on the vitamins and settled at the bottom of the bottle, she checked the ingredients on the label. The bottle listed sugar, corn syrup and sodium citrate among the ingredients.”

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Gucci & Groceries: The Malling of Supermarkets

The Wall Street Journal: As the internet reshapes the way Americans shop, landlords of mid- and low-quality mall properties are adapting to stay relevant, trying everything from restaurants to indoor skydiving. Now a few are bringing in supermarkets … The goal for landlords of covered malls is to provide one-stop destinations where consumers can pick up a broad array of items and, ideally, visit multiple times a week. These massive rectangular structures surrounded by vast parking lots are usually built to serve shoppers up to 25 miles away.”

Tom McGee of of the International Council of Shopping Centers, comments:”Consumers, particularly millennials, are placing a high priority on experiences while also valuing convenience. As a result, among other things, we are seeing more restaurants, movie theaters, health clubs and grocery stores serve as anchors.”

“But supermarkets might not do much to lift other retailers in struggling malls, analysts said. Grocery shoppers, especially seniors, often are sensitive to the distance between their car and the store, and might not want to navigate busy malls with grocery bags in tow, or supermarkets with mall purchases in hand.” Jeff Edison, a mall grocery-store operator, observes: “You’re not going to buy a Louis Vuitton bag or a dress when you’re carrying your groceries.”

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Nokia 3310: When Dumbphones Are Smart

The Atlantic: “How is it possible … that Nokia has announced an updated edition of one of its most popular phones of the early aughts, the 3310? In short, because nothing has become less sexy or less useful than a smartphone … there are reasons to prefer a phone as a portable communications tool instead of a compulsive, general-purpose computer.”

“Some of those reasons recall the original uses of the cell phone … mobile handsets often were bought as insurance against surprises or emergencies. People tossed them into automobile glove boxes, or carried them in pockets or purses only when the perception of risk or the need for coordination seemed required … An inexpensive, reliable handset with a long-lasting battery might turn the Nokia 3310 a second phone, or a backup phone … Should Nokia rekindle the cultural allure of the feature phone, perhaps its potential as a communications tool absent the urges of the smartphone will inspire parents to stop handing over these glass-and-metal temptations to their progeny without a second thought.”

“The simultaneous fragility and expense of smartphones also helps explain why the Nokia 3310 might appeal even to consumers who can afford better … when attending a concert or sporting event, thin smartphones might risk getting lost or stolen. In these instances, a $50 Nokia 3310 offers clear benefit … perhaps the need to keep a smartphone powered and connected to the network—not to mention the compulsion to use all those apps—would be reduced given a second device meant solely for communication … The future promise of Nokia’s device isn’t this particular device, but the alternate, unthought future it represents.”

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Infinite Personalization: A Layer Cake of Fake

David Siegel: “Infinite personalization comprises the artificial intelligence-driven, big-data based tools that allow algorithms to build a personalized Internet echo chamber customized just for you, designed to make you feel great. Infinite personalization feeds you the real, the fake, and everything in between, with the simple goal of holding your attention and getting you to come back for more. It is the process by which companies can measure, match, and predict consumers’ individual preferences with amazing accuracy and then tailor offerings to maximize revenue.”

“Particularly when it comes to information, however, infinite personalization has a dark side … Today, each and every one of us has a custom-designed experience based on our past preferences … One result is that Americans seem to be losing a certain commonality of experience—even, in some cases, within the same household … The problem is likely to get worse. The technology of infinite personalization is getting so good that it’s debatable whether we choose our information sources, or the other way around.”

“The scientific method and the advent of artificial intelligence offer us the promise of greater empiricism and a more evidence-based understanding of reality. Perversely, infinite personalization seems to deliver the exact opposite. Worse yet, we are still in the early days of this information revolution. The ability to use such tools to shape our thinking will only grow more powerful in the coming years. As individuals and as a society, we should be very wary about their potential to warp our perspectives.”

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