Late & Great: Lotfi Zadeh

The New York Times: “Lotfi Zadeh, the computer scientist and electrical engineer whose theories of “fuzzy logic” rippled across academia and industry, influencing everything from linguistics, economics and medicine to air-conditioners, vacuum cleaners and rice cookers, died on Wednesday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 96 … Emerging from an academic paper Mr. Zadeh published in 1965 as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, ‘fuzzy logic,’ as he called it, was an ambitious effort to close the gap between mathematics and the intuitive way that humans talk, think and interact with the world.”

“If someone asks you to identify ‘a very tall man,’ for instance, you can easily do so — even if you are not given a specific height. Similarly, you can balance a broom handle on your finger without calculating how far it can lean in one direction without toppling over … Rather than creating strict boundaries for real world concepts, he made the boundaries ‘fuzzy.’ Something was not in or out, for example. It sat somewhere on the continuum between in and out, and at any given moment a set of more complex rules defined inclusion.”

Fuzzy logic “could provide a way for insurance companies to assess damage after an earthquake, for instance. Is the damage serious, moderate or minimal under company rules? Fuzzy sets could help … The method could also help build machinery and electronics that gradually move from one state to another, like an automobile transmission, which shifts smoothly from first gear to second, or a thermostat, which flows just as smoothly from hot to cold. Hot and cold need not be precisely defined. They could exist on a continuum.”


Solo Cups: How They Stack Up

The Washington Post: “The red Solo Cup is an elegant piece of technology … what many take for granted as simply a cheap, disposable beverage holder is the result of careful, beautiful engineering by people such as Robert Hulseman,” who passed away, at 84, on December 21, 2016.


“Before the invention of the Solo Cup as we know it, it was often difficult to remove one disposable cup from a whole stack … One of the Solo Cup’s distinguishing features, according to the patent, was the curved lip of each cup … When several cups were stacked together, the lips would ‘engage’… and rest upon each other, keeping one cup from sinking too tightly into the next.”

However: “When cups like these were subjected to crushing forces from various angles, the bottoms could warp in ways that actually made it harder to separate the cups … This is how the plastic Solo Cup gained indentations or divots in the base that made the bottoms more rigid and allowed for more air flow between each stacked cup, which allegedly had the side benefit of helping the cups come apart.”

“It’s often said, incorrectly, that the lines found on some Solo Cups were intentionally designed to mark appropriate serving sizes for different types of drinks, such as beer, wine and liquor.” In fact: “The lines are meant to enhance ‘functional performance’ and help keep your fingers from slipping.”


Late & Great: Jens Risom

The New York Times: “Jens Risom, the Danish furniture maestro who helped bring midcentury modern design to the United States through his work with Knoll Studio, died on Dec. 9 at his home in New Canaan, Conn. He was 100. Defined by sharp Scandinavian lines and fused with the rustic aura of Shakerism and American arts and crafts, the armless, affordable chair that became Mr. Risom’s signature in 1942 was one of the first mass-produced modernist furniture pieces introduced in the United States and not Europe.”

“Materials were hard to come by during the war, so Mr. Risom designed a chair with simple wooden legs and for upholstery used nothing other than surplus parachute straps. The surprise was that Mr. Risom’s creation — one of 15 pieces he designed for Knoll’s debut collection, and perhaps too humble to ever be described as a masterpiece — was almost comfortable enough to sleep in.”


“What resonates about it is that it’s not fancy,” said Wendy Goodman of New York magazine. “To Ms. Goodman … there was a certain logic to the way Mr. Risom went to the United States and helped remind people there about the beauty of its unfussy design history.” She observes: “Maybe it takes someone coming here to do that, because he romanticized the freedom and the openness of America, and that’s what’s so wonderful about his furniture.”


Late & Great: Richard Trentlage

The New York Times: “The Oscar Mayer Wiener Song had its beginnings in September 1962, when Richard Trentlage … learned that Oscar Mayer … was sponsoring a contest for a wiener jingle … Inspiration struck when he remembered one of his sons, using a term for someone who is cool, talking about a friend who was a ‘dirt-bike hot dog’ … ‘I wish I could be a dirt-bike hot dog,’ his son said.”

“When the jingle was first heard on a Houston radio station in 1963, listeners, thinking it was a pop tune, requested that it be played repeatedly … The song became part of the fabric of American culture.”

“Mr. Trentlage’s melodies, lyrics and tag lines were practically a hit parade in the advertising world, many of them with the mental stickiness of flypaper; among others, he wrote ‘McDonald’s is your kind of place’; ‘Wow! It sure doesn’t taste like tomato juice,’ for V8; and ‘Buckle up for safety, buckle up!’ (sung to the tune of ‘Buckle Down, Winsocki’) for a National Safety Council seatbelt promotion.” Richard Trentlage died September 21, 2016, at 87.


The Death of The Dodge Dart

USA Today: “What went wrong with the Dodge Dart? … The Dart was supposed to signal a fresh start for Fiat Chrysler … Less than four and a half years later, the Dart is a footnote. Few people other than Dodge dealers are likely to notice when production ends this month … The Dart was the wrong car, at the wrong time, from the wrong brand. It launched into headwinds that would slow a great car, and the Dart was far from great … there was never a moment when the Dodge declared itself to be the best car in its class. It was not the clear leader in any area that drives customer demand.”

“Fiat Chrysler made it easy for customers to ignore the Dart, launching the car with ho-hum fuel economy and performance. Even in an era of low gasoline prices, claiming the best fuel economy generates headlines and gets buyers’ attention … Rather than delay the Dart, Fiat Chrysler hamstrung its new car with suboptimal gearboxes. For the first several months, the Dart was only available with a manual transmission — a disaster in the U.S., where automatics account for more than 90% of sales. When the automatics arrived, they were a Hyundai-built six-speed and a Fiat six-speed that used dual-clutch technology Americans generally dislike.”

“What does the Dart’s failure say about Fiat Chrysler’s future? Not much … Dropping the Dart frees Fiat Chrysler to concentrate on more popular and profitable vehicles … There’s no denying, though, that Fiat Chrysler committed the cardinal sin for an automaker: It began selling a car it knew, or should have known, was not ready.”


Late & Great: Philip Kives

The Guardian: “The late Philip Kives is “hailed as having invented the infomercial, producing a live, five-minute TV ad for a Teflon non-stick frying pan … the format stood him in good stead when he diversified from homeware and into music in 1966 … At the time, the idea of a multi-artist compilation was a rarity, because record companies were not keen to have their artists on the same LP as artists signed to competitors.”

Few were the households in the 1970s that didn’t have some sort of K-tel release propped up beside the stereo in a manner that makes the supposed ubiquity of an act like Adele today pale in comparison … For Kives … music was just another product like the Patty Stacker, the Bottle Cutter, the Veg-o-Matic food cutter and the Miracle Brush … While artists might bristle at the idea of being sold in the same way as a tool for chopping vegetables or cleaning suede, for Kives it was still the boardwalk and he was gripped by the thrill of sell, sell, sell.”

“Today, marketing executives like to regard themselves as super-sophisticated, guiding what they do with endless data, market research and analysis; but they are still working on many of the same principles that Kives perfected half a century ago. Except he was arguably much closer to the audience, understood them better and respected them more.”


Quote of the Day: Prince

“I’d rather give people what they need rather than just what they want.” – Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016)

It’s kind of the inverse of Mick Jagger: “You can’t always get what you want,” where what you need is something less than what you want. Prince (and David Bowie for that matter — and the Stones to be fair!), understood that what we need is something more than what we want.

Isn’t this also true of great brands? They take us somewhere beyond what we want. The magic is in what we need, whether we know we “want” it or not — until we experience it.


Late & Great: Giorgio’s Fred Hayman

The New York Times: The late Fred Hayman “was the banquet and catering manager at the Beverly Hilton in 1961 when he invested several thousand dollars to become the silent partner in Giorgio, a struggling women’s clothing store off Rodeo Drive … The location was nothing special.”

“They saw the street, in their dreams, as a rival to Bond Street in London or Fifth Avenue in New York. Mr. Hayman showcased top designers new to the West Coast … He created a sunny, eye-catching exterior with awnings in bright yellow and white and a clubby interior with a pool table and an oak bar, with free drinks, so men could relax while their wives or girlfriends shopped.”

“Drawing on his hotel experience, he lavished the attentions of a concierge on his customers. He sent handwritten thank-you notes, set up a valet parking service and delivered packages to his best customers in a 1952 Rolls-Royce. By the mid-1970s the A-list clients were pouring in … spending tens of thousands of dollars in one go. Some patrons arrived with an extra limousine to haul away their purchases.”

“It was incredible how the money just flowed in,” Mr. Hayman told The New York Times in 1991. “You really didn’t have to sell. You’d just stand there and the customer would say, ‘I’ll have that and that and that and that.’” Fred Hayman was 90.