Sensory Memories: Smells Like Olfactory History

The New York Times: “Over the past year, a Columbia University preservation expert and a curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan have been engaged in an unusual poetic-scientific experiment in the little-visited olfactory wing of history, trying to pin down the powerful connection between smell and memory — in this case, collective memory … Their goal is perhaps someday to be able to convey a sense of the building’s history beyond just its look and feel. Their primary tool is a sampling device that looks like a contraption out of Jules Verne: a crystalline dome with plastic tubing snaking from its side.”

“The sampler is placed gently on objects — rare books, furniture, carpets — to capture the escaping molecules that create a distinct smell … Carlos Benaim, a master perfumer … said that the thousands of molecules that were trapped in the glass-bell sampler would be categorized to determine which of them constitutes the smell profile of objects and surfaces from the Morgan … The project, which drew attention after an article in the art blog Hyperallergic, may end up some day recreating these smells as a way to help visitors experience the library in a different way, possibly through an olfactory exhibition or sensory gallery.”

Jorge Otero-Pailos, professor and director of historic preservation at Columbia, explains: “In the end, we’re after meaning, historical meaning, cultural meaning and how to do that is something we hope to figure out.”


Bayou Teche Brews Cajun-Style Beer

The New York Times: “Run by Karlos Knott … Bayou Teche Brewing is an eight-year-old family-owned operation … Mr. Knott and his brothers, Byron, 52, and Dorsey, 47, produce 200 barrels of beer a week, much of it intended to go with the foods they grew up eating: gumbo made with a dark Cajun roux, jambalaya and smoked meats, fried Gulf shrimp and fist-size oysters and butter-mounted crawfish étouffée served over local rice simmered with more butter and bay leaves.”

“While most American beers are made as stand-alone drinks … Bayou Teche takes its cues from the French and Belgian farmhouse traditions, in which beers are meant to be served at the table as part of a meal … In addition to their regular roster of about a dozen craft ales, the Knott brothers also make two only-in-Acadiana spring specials. One is for the Courir de Mardi Gras, the old Cajun version of the holiday celebrated in towns throughout the region on Fat Tuesday … The beer is wheaty, slightly hoppy and high-alcohol … it pairs well with the complex flavors of a gumbo … The other Bayou Teche spring ale is made to go with the crawfish that appear January through June.”

“Many of the special beers the brothers have produced over the years incorporate southern Louisiana ingredients, like local raw sugar, rice and hot peppers. Not all have worked — most notably a beer called Shrimp and Grits that actually incorporated hominy grits and shellfish. Mr. Knott comments: “The beer tasted good, but it smelled like old shrimp.” He also says: “We like to think of ourselves as a big stop sign. To stop and have an appreciation about what we have that’s different, to not try to emulate other places and to not try to be like the rest of the country.”


The Yeti ‘Museum’: Cool Retail for Cool Coolers

Fast Company: “Yeti makes coolers. They’re very good coolers—they can keep ice for longer than the competition, they’re very sturdy, they can survive being mauled by a bear … but ultimately, they’re still just coolers … when it came time to launch their first retail store, the goal was less ‘find a way to sell a lot of coolers to people who come inside’ and more ‘create a permanent brand activation that allows people to interact with Yeti in ways that they’ll hopefully take with them in the future’ … while you can buy a cooler there, the space was created with that being a secondary—or maybe even tertiary—goal.”

Corey Maynard, Yeti’s Vice President of Marketing, explains: “Yes, we’re selling coolers, and you can get drinkware and shirts and hats and stuff, but it was much more important to us that people could have fun with the Yeti brand and see it brought to life in the three-dimensional world than just be a place that’s driven by transaction … What they came up with very much feels like a museum, complete with a variety of displays and marquee exhibits … There’s a boating exhibit, featuring a skiff built by angler fisherman Flip Pallot … complete with taxidermy redfish, stingrays, brown shrimp, blue crabs, and more. The BBQ exhibit features the backyard BBQ pit of legendary Austin pitmaster Aaron Franklin.”

“That approach folds into the retail displays, too. The display for the Tundra—Yeti’s signature cooler—features half of a pickup truck, so visitors can get a feel for how much space a cooler takes up in a truck bed, and what it’s like to lift it up and put it in there. The Rambler display, which shows off the brand’s drink ware, is housed in a giant replica of what you’d see if you cut a Rambler mug in half.” Says Maynard: “I like to think of it as like a children’s museum for Yeti, where there’s a lot of fun things that you can read, play with, and interact with.”


Footwear: How Saks Attracts Men

The New York Times: “Next week, Saks will open its first free-standing store specially for men, in Brookfield Place, the retail, office and dining complex in Lower Manhattan … The 16,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store will include leather and shoe repair services, made-to-measure suits and a tech bar selling the latest gadgets … In the spring, an in-house Sharps barbershop and Fika coffee shop will be added. And a monthly rotating pop-up shop will feature, in the opening weeks, 200 styles of sneakers, 40 of which are Saks exclusives.”

Saks President Marc Metrick explains: “Footwear is a gateway drug.”

“Saks is luring the stylish new man with a palette of whites, taupes and silvers and chevron-patterned porcelain flooring. Gone is the brown-wood, Morton’s steakhouse look of the uptown men’s department. The vibe is not unlike the Saks women’s store at the opposite end of the complex.”


The Happiness Effect: The Dark Side of Social Media

From a review of The Happiness Effect, by Donna Freitas, in The Wall Street Journal: “The real downside of Facebook, Instagram and their ilk … is constant cheeriness. Young people learn that any hint of unhappiness or failure may not be posted; it can haunt their futures and damage their ‘brands.’ This imperative then creates a vicious circle.” Freitas writes: “Because young people feel so pressured to post happy things on social media, most of what everyone sees on social media from their peers are happy things; as a result, they often feel inferior because they aren’t actually happy all the time.”

“Young people feel that they have to be online almost all the time, but they cannot share their real selves there, a situation that produces even greater unhappiness … Yet avoiding social media is almost impossible; professors, for instance, create discussion groups on Facebook. So the beast must be mollified and a ‘personal brand’ maintained: that of a studious yet social person who does the right activities and holds the right opinions. ‘Many students have begun to see what they post (on Facebook, especially) as a chore—a homework assignment to build a happy facade,’ Ms. Freitas reports.”

“Some of her interviews contain real gems … One young man tells her that he doesn’t think his generation is any more self-centered or self-obsessed than any other … ‘Everybody wants to be noticed,’ he says. ‘Everybody likes feeling approval. They all like it when other people like them.’ Anyone who has posted a photo on Instagram and then checked 10 times over the next two hours to count the number of ‘likes’ … knows this feeling.”


Dreamscape Immersive: Virtual Reality For Malls

The Wall Street Journal: “A new venture backed by three studios and director Steven Spielberg has raised $11 million as it aims to launch its first VR storefront at a Los Angeles mall this fall with plans for a wider rollout next year … Dreamscape Immersive will feature original VR experiences and ones tied to major film franchises, said co-chairman Walter Parkes, a former DreamWorks motion picture chief and longtime producer.”

Mr. Parkes comments: “Studios and shopping centers have the same challenge, to create experiences that draw people in. That overlap is where we saw an opportunity.”

“The Dreamscape VR experiences are expected to last about 10 minutes each and cost a little over $1 million to produce. Tickets will cost $15 to $20 … The startup’s retail locations will feature multiple ‘pods,’ where people can have a VR experience in which they interact with each other and physical objects. Eventually, Dreamscape hopes to move into adjacent businesses where it could use virtual reality such as military and medical training, communications and tourism, said Mr. Parkes.”


Design & Data: Let The Pictures Do The Talking

Wired: “Data rarely speaks for itself. Not cogently, anyway. That’s what tables, graphs, and diagrams are for. The right visualization can focus a jumbled heap of facts and figures into something concise, captivating, informative, persuasive, or misleading. The challenge is choosing how best to showcase the data you’re interested in—and your options are surprisingly numerous, as designer Nathan Yau demonstrates in a recent series of 25 visualizations. Every graphic is based on the same data set—life expectancy figures, by country, from the World Health Organization—but each tells a slightly different story.” (link)

“Yau says most of his designs begin with questions. Answering them leads to a tighter focus on a given data set … Asking the WHO data set a question like ‘what’s the median’ might lead to a bar chart comparing countries with the highest and lowest life expectancy … A more refined question, like ‘which countries experience the most fluctuations,’ gives rise to a very different visualization.”

“Information designers have a saying: ‘Let the data speak for itself.’ But Yau says presenting data is more complicated than that. ‘It’s a nice idea in theory—you want to visualize the data, and not get in the way,’ he says. But without a point of view, data tends to ramble. A designer’s responsibility is to impose that point of view.”



New Genes For Blue Jeans

Henry I. Miller: “Genetic engineers have developed a way to produce the two principal components, cotton fabric and indigo dye, for less money and soon will make commercial bluejean production cheaper than ever … Genetically engineered cotton is created by introducing into the plant a new gene from a bacterium … The bacterial gene expresses a protein that is toxic to certain insects but not to humans or other mammals.”

“With conventional cotton, farmers control insects by applying huge amounts of chemical pesticides known to harm birds, fish and other aquatic organisms. Lessening the need for pesticides also reduces farm workers’ exposure to those chemicals. The other main ingredient in bluejeans, indigo dye, is usually produced synthetically through a complex, multistep process performed with highly toxic chemicals. It requires special facilities and precautions to protect workers and the environment.”

“But indigo dye can also be made using genetically engineered bacteria. This process has fewer steps, uses water instead of toxic organic solvents, incorporates corn syrup as the primary starting material, and yields nontoxic waste products. While it is not yet efficient enough for commercial use, stay tuned.”


Artificial Storytelling: Not ‘Fake News’ Exactly

Fast Company: “Connecting with an audience has always been something of an art form—it’s part of the magic of a great storyteller. But AI is steadily converting it into a science. The AI-driven marketing platform Influential uses IBM’s Watson to connect brands with audiences. It finds social media influencers who can help spread a brand’s message to target demographics in a way that feels authentic.”

“Ryan Detert, Influential’s CEO and cofounder, says that the tool uses two of Watson’s services, Personality Insights and AlchemyLanguage, to look at the content written by an influencer, analyzing that text, and scoring it across 52 personality traits—like ‘adventurousness,’ ‘achievement striving,’ and ‘openness to change.’ To date, says Detert, Influential has gathered these insights on 10,000 social media influencers with over 4 billion followers altogether.”

“Influential worked with Kia on a 2016 Super Bowl ad featuring Christopher Walken, and Detert notes … ‘The more the brand and influencers’ voices are aligned … the greater the engagement, sentiment, ad recall, virality, and clicks.’ The influencers that the AI technology pinpointed, says Detert, ‘outperformed their regular organic content with these branded posts.’ In other words, the machine learned how to connect with the influencers’ fans even better than the influencers themselves did.” Here’s the spot: