For Sure: I’m Not Certain About This Post …

Scientific American: “Most of us have had the experience of being persuaded by someone simply because they were so sure about what they were saying. As it turns out, uncertainty can also be a powerful tool of persuasion … In fact, persuasion research reveals that in some situations people can make their own message more persuasive by explicitly noting that they are unsure about what they’re saying! The reason: Uncertainty draws us in. It causes us to pay more attention; to think more deeply about what’s going on.”

“Conventional wisdom dictates that contradicting oneself—for example, first opposing something and later supporting it—undermines one’s persuasiveness … research indicates that, under some circumstances, contradicting oneself has the potential to boost one’s persuasiveness. Most notably, if people already trust you, you can get them to process your message more carefully if you contradict something you have said in the past.”

“As a final example, Boston University marketing professor Daniella Kupor’s work on the psychology of interruptions further reflects the power of uncertainty in persuasion … interrupting a message can make it more persuasive. Why would this happen? Just like a cliffhanger, the interruption seems to build curiosity about what’s coming next. This elevates interest in the material when it arrives, causing people to pay closer attention to it.”


Street Art: Urban Cachet for Restaurateurs

The Wall Street Journal: “Restaurants throughout New York City are showing off street artists’ work inside and out, from commissioning large-scale murals to arranging framed pieces on the walls. The work doesn’t just add a splash of color, they say, it also helps confer urban cachet to the brand … At Vandal, a Lower East Side restaurant … larger-than-life works from such artists as Hush, Shepard Fairey and Vhils take center stage … Tao Group co-founder Rich Wolf said his company, which also operates Beauty & Essex, Stanton Social and its namesake restaurants, spent more than $1 million on the artwork.”

“Restaurants that do things on a smaller financial scale with street art are also finding the artistic investments have paid off … The strong visual elements of much street art help restaurants attract attention, crucial in a social-media-saturated age when images of what’s on the menu or on the walls can be shared widely. While graffiti and street-art traditions extend back centuries, they have exploded in popular culture as artists such as Banksy and JR have won mainstream recognition.”

“Restaurants must understand the value and meaning of the work and not just see it as a shiny marketing tool, said Roger Gastman, a Los Angeles-based artist representative who works with several prominent street artists.” He comments: “When the art is used solely for promotion, it’s not true to the culture.”


Chopped Cheese: A New York Hero

The New York Times: “The chopped cheese is a New York success story — with a somewhat charged twist. The sandwich, also called a chop cheese — ground beef with onions, topped by melted cheese and served with lettuce, tomatoes and condiments on a hero roll — has long been a staple of bodegas in Harlem and the Bronx. Now, it has started migrating from grill tops to restaurant menus, from the lyrics of rappers onto the pages of food blogs.”

“Usually costing $4 or $5, the sandwich has the qualities of what scientists call an emergent property — it is greater than the sum of its parts. Fans of the food say part of its appeal is that it is infinitely customizable … But in recent years, the sandwich has been finding a wider audience: a cameo in a Bronx-themed episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show, ‘Parts Unknown’; a shout-out in a restaurant review in The New York Times; an in-depth look on a food blog run by Complex Media; and a growing volume of web features, music videos and social media chatter.”

“Jocelyn Guest, a 32-year-old butcher, said that when she and her business partner, Erika Nakamura, decided to open up a butcher shop and restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan featuring classic New York fare, they had to include the chopped cheese … But news that the restaurant … would include an approximately $15 chopped cheese drew … anger. When the restaurant opened recently, the price was lowered to $11 … The sandwich continues to work its way into the city’s culture in unexpected ways, showing up in vegan renditions, in recipes and at a recent food festival.”


Trader Joe’s: A Toxic Culture of Coercion?

The New York Times: “A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as ‘crew members,’ complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance. Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.”

“Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a ‘Wow customer experience,’ which is defined in the company handbook as ‘the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us’… with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.”

Gammy Alvarez, an employee at a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan, comments: “The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly. I think they want us to be not real people.”


The Internet: Marketplace or Echo Chamber?

The New York Times: “The root of the problem with online news is something that initially sounds great: We have a lot more media to choose from … A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age — ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ the boosters called it. But that’s not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest — we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

“This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google or The New York Times’s smartphone app, you are given ultimate control — if you see something you don’t like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online.”

“Digital technology has blessed us with better ways to capture and disseminate news. There are cameras and audio recorders everywhere, and as soon as something happens, you can find primary proof of it online. You would think that greater primary documentation would lead to a better cultural agreement about the ‘truth.’ In fact, the opposite has happened.”


Myth on the Rocks: The Seelbach Story

The New York Times: The Seelbach cocktail, a specialty of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, has an “elaborate origin story involving a couple from New Orleans … The man ordered a manhattan, the woman a Champagne cocktail. The clumsy bartender, spilling the bubbly into the manhattan, set the mess aside and made the drinks anew. But the accidental mélange got the barman thinking. Soon, the Seelbach cocktail was born.”

In 1995, Adam Seger, then a rookie bartender at the Seelbach Hotel, announced he had re-discovered this long-forgotten, pre-Prohibition recipe, and put it on the menu. “The news media soon picked up on the tale, and within a few years, the Seelbach cocktail was regarded as a rescued classic. It’s a tantalizing back story, one that has charmed cocktail writers and aficionados for years, and there’s only one thing wrong with it: None of it is true.”

Mr. Seger, who recently admitted his fabrication, explains: “I was nobody. I had no previous accolades in the bar world. I knew I could make a great drink. I wanted it to be this promotion for the hotel, and I felt the hotel needed a signature cocktail.” A hotel spokesperson says the Seelbach cocktail “has certainly been a tradition of the hotel and will remain part of its future.”


Veggie Tots: The Future of Frozen Food?

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Big Food is betting that frozen food, a relic of Sputnik and the Mickey Mouse Club, can stir the hearts and palates of the quinoa generation even as sales figures have fallen each year since 2009. The products need to overcome a reputation, some of it earned and some not, that the meals found in your grocer’s freezer, often packed with sodium and preservatives, taste meh.”

“B&G is wooing millennials with frozen ‘veggie tots’ with broccoli and cauliflower. Kraft Heinz’s Devour line includes recipes like white cheddar mac and cheese with bacon, pulled-chicken burrito bowls and pesto ravioli with spicy Italian sausage … Conagra Foods Inc., the maker of leading brands Marie Callender’s and Banquet, is trying to bring some foodie prestige with its Wicked Kitchen line, which the company says was inspired by food trucks.”

“B&G is approaching the future with a little bit of the past. The pickle and snack company’s purchase of Green Giant nearly doubled its size and marked its first foray into the freezer case. It’s betting the Jolly Green Giant will tap into the nostalgia of parents looking to put vegetables on the dinner table while finding a new audience with millennials.”


Animalis: Beauty & The Beast Within

The New York Times: “Maybe it’s the desire of millennials to reclaim their beastly odors in an age of technological detachment, but fragrance buyers are newly excited to smell as if they come from an elegant zoo … A new line capitalizing on this trend is Eris Parfums, a collection from Barbara Herman.”

“Ms. Herman found that many of her favorite vintage perfumes relied on a base accord called Animalis … an unctuous golden liquid comprised civet, castoreum, costus and musk, and smelled a bit like body odor, dirty scalp, perspiration, butter and a horse stable. Though it sounds unappealing on its own, when combined with other materials, consumers couldn’t resist it. Animalis found its way into popular scents like Robert Piguet Visa and YSL Kouros.”

Stephen Dirkes, a self-taught perfumer, comments: “I like to think about how fashion is often elevated as an expression of personal style, like art you can wear, but it’s also an expression of self-loathing. Grasse, in France, where great perfumery came from, was also a tannery town. The smell of death and the smell of flowers went hand in hand.”


The Nightmare Machine: Scary or Not?

Quartz: “A series of algorithms dubbed the Nightmare Machine is an effort to find the root of horror by generating ghoulish faces, and then relying on user feedback to see which approach makes the freakiest images … Each “scary” or “not scary” vote in MIT’s game pulls the best fit line slightly in some direction: more teeth, paler skin, darker background. With enough information, the AI could theoretically generate the sum of human fears.”

“While it’s a fun game around Halloween, the project also shows how quickly AI research is progressing. The two main techniques used in the project, style transfer and generative adversarial networks, were published in papers only last year. Now the technology is easy enough to implement in a novelty project made by just three computer scientists.” Here’s a link to the project.