Monday, June 30, 2014

Anatomy of a Dumb Smartphone: The Facebook Phone Failure

Along with its disastrous release of the standalone Facebook phone, the social media giant last year released its "Home" application that installed the Facebook-centered skin and start screens onto any Android-powered phone (essentially turning it into a Facebook phone).  Was the software route any better than the immediately discounted and discontinued phone itself?  Immediate reactions were not positive, and even Mark Zuckerberg admitted the project was a misfire, and not living up to expectations.

But what happens to lame old applications in the Google Play store? Very little, it turns out. The software is still there in the store, available for downloading.  But the lack of confidence by its parent company is apparent, when you see that the software has not been updated in the last six months. So the ghost ship of the once highly anticipated Facebook phone drifts along toward its slow oblivion...

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:
What Happened to the Facebook Phone?

Excerpt: "Facebook has long wanted to be a major part of how you use your smartphone. Now, it looks as if the company has all but abandoned one of its major strategies to do so.

The company has disbanded the team of engineers originally assigned to work on Facebook Home, its custom-made mobile software for Android devices, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Released with much fanfare last year, Home was the result of the social giant’s multi-year effort to more deeply integrate Facebook features into an Android smartphone. After downloading and installing the software, for example, Home made it faster to view Facebook photos and send messages to friends directly from the home screen of the phone without needing to rely on Facebook’s popular mobile app to do so.

In effect, the Home software transformed a smartphone into a Facebook phone.

Shortly after it was released, Home ran into snags. Early adopters rated the software mediocre at best. And six months after the introduction, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said the software was hardly the hit he wanted it to be.

'I definitely think Home is slower in rolling out than I would have hoped,' Mr. Zuckerberg said in an interview at a tech conference last year.

The Facebook Home software, which is still available for download in the Google Play app marketplace, has not been updated since January. Facebook declined to comment.

While the company has not formally retired the software, Home’s failure to catch on is an embarrassing misstep for Facebook, which spent years trying to create a home-grown version of a Facebook phone as consumers moved en masse from desktop computers to Internet-connected mobile devices.

'It wasn’t the right product at the right time for their customers,' said Brian Blau, a research director and analyst for the Gartner Group. 'Facebook always thought they could turn things around, but they haven’t for whatever reason.' "

Friday, June 27, 2014

Is Texting The End of Communication, Or a New Form of Language?

It's quick, dirty and graceless.  At least if you are old enough to remember when written communication was more than "brb" "lol" "j/k" and "cu L8R".  But like it or not, for the younger  generation, texting is their second language.  And there is evidence that texting actually is easier and more likely to draw in shy or introverted types than more structured personal communications.

What are the pros and cons of using abbreviated text as your primary tool in communications, and what is it doing to our brains?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Forbes

Link to article:

Excerpt: " On the eve of the Battle of Bull Run, Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers wrote to his wife about his fears of dying (justified as things turned out) in the coming battle.

'I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.'

They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

A little more than 60 years later, the major might have confided: 'rly scrd. mite not mk it. luv u. C u on otr side.'

There is wide concern that eloquence has fallen victim to expediency, that the thoughtful phrase has been replaced by the fascicle contraction, that communication is suffering, and that texting bears the brunt of the blame. In a 2012 study published in the journal New Media & Society, researchers at Wake Forest University found a correlation between the use of SMS-abbreviations and the increasing inability among students to identify and use correct grammar; the more texts the 10-to-14-year-olds in the study sent, the worse their grammar performance. 'Sometimes it’s like there are two languages in your head,' the teenaged daughter of a close friend recently told me. 'The language you use for texting and the language you use for homework.' And although a 2013 study published in the journal Linguistics and Translation concluded that most users are 'context conscious,' and are adept at switching from text speak to writing that calls for more formality, is it any wonder the two sometimes intersect?

If conversation is an art, art takes practice. Today, that practice time is used up screen-to-screen, rather than face-to-face or through composing a well-constructed letter. And yet the reports of the death of eloquent expression may be greatly exaggerated. If we look at what the age of digital information—and texting and other forms of digital shorthand in particular—has done to the art of interpersonal communication, all is not lost. It’s just different. And in some world-changing ways: better.

Language has a rich history of evolution. It is not meant to be stagnant. Writing, at an estimated 5,000 years old, is itself is a mere babe compared to language, which traces back at least 80,000 years. Each year, new words are added to the dictionary to represent the changing nature of language—150 last year alone, including three explicitly linked to texting culture: srsly (text speak for 'seriously'), emoji (the emoticons and smileys used often in text messages), and TL:DR (short for 'Too long, didn’t read.') Just as writing became a new way of expressing language all those thousands of years ago, texting is a new form of expression entirely representative of the way we communicate today—that is, quickly, economically, and on the go. As such, it is no better or worse than the introduction of email before it or the telegram before that. Just different.

There is reason to believe that the fluency text speak requires of people is helping to make them adaptable in a world that is dominated by fast-paced, tech-heavy startups; a world that requires adaptability in order to survive and thrive. Language is about delivering information, and throughout history we have needed to adjust to mediums and people if we want to be understood. Recently, a friend my age texted. 'Running late see u lunch 1215 diner' The punctuation was abominable; there was no syntax to speak of. And yet I knew what she meant.

There are other benefits. Studies also show that texting can enable those who are shy or lack confidence to be more socially outgoing, and that texting may help foster an increase in emotional expression. It’s true that texting may reduce the boundaries and make saying what we mean easier; that’s not always a bad thing, whether for the man too shy to tell his new girlfriend how he feels or the colleague too meek to stand up in person to the office bully. Some schools have begun using texting as a way to help encourage students to participate more in class. In one case study, students who were less likely to speak up in discussions in class were far more likely to respond in discussions conducted via text. Research published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology found texting could actually have a positive impact on reading and language development. 'Text speak', the study found, correlates with higher reading ability. Another bonus? Teens accustomed to correcting messages before sending them become better self-editors."


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Starbucks Adding Fizzio Hand-made Sodas to 3500 Locations

Last year, Starbucks began test marketing hand-made sodas in Austin and Atlanta. Apparently, the response was good, since today the coffee and drink giant announced the expansion of the program to 3500 locations across the American Sun Belt.  

The Fizzio sodas start by steeping a cheesecloth bag of flavors and spices in hot water, like a tea.  Then a new machine developed by Starbucks carbonates the flavored water.  The made-to-order drink takes about 85 seconds, and can be customized to the strength the customer prefers.  The drink price varies by location, but in Los Angeles a tall Fizzio will go for $2.45.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Detroit Free Press

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Starbucks is about to make a cold — and carbonated — calculation.

On Tuesday, the designer coffee kingpin will try to become a designer soft drink titan, too, with the launch of three flavors of Fizzio Handcrafted Sodas made by baristas at more than 3,000 locations across the U.S. Sunbelt. It’s a carefully calculated bid to drum-up afternoon business and evolve yet another beverage specialty.

If it works, Starbucks will have given folks yet another reason to willingly pay a premium for beverages that are part show and part show-off.

'We are changing the game in terms of how to get a carbonated drink,' says Josh Fine, brand manager for Fizzio. 'Like what Starbucks did to coffee 40 years ago, we think we can do in the carbonation space.'

The sodas have Starbucks pricing: about $2.45 for a 'tall.' (A 'tall' coffee goes for about $1.80.)

The same baristas who put on a show making lattes and espressos now will go through lots of fizzing and popping to make you a root beer, ginger ale or lemon ale. And get this: They are caffeine-free.

It only takes about 85 seconds for a barista to make a Fizzio drink, so they won’t result in long lines, says Fine. And while the machines are noisy, he says they will add — not subtract — to store ambiance. Starbucks won’t say when the sodas will be in all stores.

For Starbucks, it’s about getting a toehold in the $400 million global carbonated beverage market. While carbonated beverage sales have declined in the U.S. for years, Starbucks figures it can lure nutrition-conscious Millennials with sodas that have the fizz but no artificial preservatives or additives, and no high-fructose corn syrup.

'Adding new drinking occasions is the key to (Starbucks) growth,' says Michael Silverstein, senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. The company also is branching into tea with its purchase and expansion of the Teavana brand."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New Train Station Renovations Up the Glamour Quotient

Europe has been devoted to its sleek, grand or stylish train stations for decades, and now finally it looks like American cities are catching up.  With new high-speed corridors planned for the East and West Coasts, cities from Miami and Denver to San Francisco and LA are planning and building gorgeous new railroad stations that will be urban jewels instead of eyesores. Here are descriptions and photos of some of the stations that are ushering in a new "golden age" of American train travel.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Gizmodo

Link to article: 
5 Rail Stations From America's New "Golden Age" of Train Travel

Excerpt:
"Union Station, Los Angeles
5 Rail Stations From America's New Golden Age of Train Travel
L.A.'s Union Station has been welcoming trains to the city for decades: It celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. But a new master plan for the station announced this week repositions Union Station as a greatly expanded multimodal transportation center with enhanced subway, bus, bike and pedestrian connections as well as an eventual high-speed rail terminal. The new plan designed by Grimshaw Architects and Gruen Associates, will include hotel and office towers, park land, and improved access to the surrounding neighborhoods and the adjacent L.A. River.

All Aboard Florida Station, Miami

5 Rail Stations From America's New Golden Age of Train Travel
A new train system proposed for Florida would be the first privately financed and operated rail network in the country: All Aboard Florida is planning to revitalize an existing 235-mile rail corridor for passenger travel by 2016. The high-speed train will travel from Orlando to South Florida, terminating in this new hub planned for downtown Miami. The complex will also include shopping and entertainment as well as a 80-story tower, all designed by SOM.

Transbay Transit Center, San Francisco

5 Rail Stations From America's New Golden Age of Train Travel
Currently under construction in San Francisco, the new Transbay Transit Center is a $4.5 billion project to replace the former transit center, the Transbay Terminal. In addition to bringing together access and connections to the Bay Area's several transit authorities, including BART, Muni, and Caltrain, the station will be able to accommodate Amtrak trains as well as the possibility of high-speed rail. The station is designed by Cesar Pelli and will be capped with a 5.4 acre public park on the roof. It's planned to open in 2017.

Denver Transit Hub, Denver

5 Rail Stations From America's New Golden Age of Train Travel
Just completed last month, Denver's gorgeous new transit hub plays off the historic 1914 Union Station, which will transition into shopping, restaurants and a boutique hotel. By turning a rail yard into the main station, Denver can consolidate all methods of transit in one place, including Amtrak, light rail, buses and a new commuter line that goes directly to DIA. The hub's master plan (also by SOM) includes offices and public space as well. Photo by Robert Polidori.

ARTIC, Anaheim

5 Rail Stations From America's New Golden Age of Train Travel 
Many California cities are banking their future on the state's high-speed rail proposal, but Anaheim was the first to make a serious commitment in the form of infrastructure. The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (you can just call it ARTIC), will be completed later this year, bringing a world-class station to the Orange County city that will improve local rail and bus connections. The design by HOK includes ETFE polymer pillows that turn the terminal into a translucent, glowing balloon. It's also completely ready for high-speed rail—if the new network ever begins construction, the system will likely begin here."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Diane Von Furstenberg Designs New Frames for Google Glass

They still are more Star Trek than Fashion Week, but Google Glass took a turn for the better this week when DVF, the company of designer Diane Von Furstenberg, released a new line of fashionable frames that incorporate the techno-geek device. Up to now, the robot-chic of off-the-shelf Glasses has made wearers into objects of ridicule.

The DVF | Made for Glass line is a cooperative effort between Ms. Von Furstenberg and Google, and the limited edition designer frame for women comes in a package that includes the frames, a clip-on shade, the Google Glass, and a mono ear bud for $1800.  A similar package with a men's frame goes for $1650.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Los Angeles Times

Link to article:
Google Glass With Designer Frames Go On Sale at Fashion Websites

Excerpt: "Two years after she brought Google Glass to the New York Fashion week runway, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg has teamed with Google Inc. to launch a line of designer frames for the smart glasses to hang on.

Von Furstenberg-- best known for her easy-to-put-on wrap dresses -- helped reshape the $1,500 computerized eyewear into something that looks more like a normal pair of glasses.

Women's fashion retailer Net-A-Porter.com is selling the limited collection in an $1,800 package that include Glass (in black, green, plum, brown or white), a frame and shade, a mono ear bud and a case. The site’s men-focused companion, MrPorter.com, is selling a $1,650-package with frame varieties of either bold, thin or half-and-half.

Elements of the packages can be bought separately through Google. The frames support prescription lenses.

Though they don’t completely shed the sense that Glass wearers are robots, the upscale frames have been applauded by some consumers as giving more style to Glass.

Potential Google Glass buyers have complained that Google’s original version isn’t appealing, and they have no intention of buying the smart glasses until Oakley, Ray-Ban, Armani or the like give it a makeover.

Google has said the DVF | Made for Glass line is expected to be the first of many such collaborations."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Punctuation Blog Helps You Get it... Right!

Don't get me started on people who can't tell the difference between its and it's. And how many of us know the virtues and utility of the n-dash and the m-dash? Face it, punctuations can sometimes be even more random and arcane than spelling. But there is hope, and help, for all of us. Punctuation Portal has distilled the cases and uses for all the punctuation marks used in written English. And best of all is their poster infographic that lays out the rules and reasons for every punctuation mark. 

Hunter Communications Original News Source: 
Punctuation Portal 

Link to article: 

Excerpt: 
"Punctuation Rules
ApostropheApostrophes: How to Use Apostrophes
Apostrophes are something you don’t want to get wrong. Besides creating confusion, a misuse of an apostrophe can be embarrassing—especially on your family Christmas card! Check out how to use apostrophes, look at some apostrophe good examples (and bad ones), and when not to use an apostrophe.
ColonColons: How to Use Colons
Colons are one of the most misused punctuation marks. Maybe that’s because they can be used in so many different ways (eight to be exact!). But if used correctly, colons can really add some life to your writing. And you’ll look smarter if you use them correctly! The good news is, the rules for using colons aren’t that tricky.
HyphenHyphens: How to Use Hyphens
Hyphens can be a bit tricky. And they shouldn’t be confused with dashes–which are like two hyphens stuck together with content wedged inside, like this–or you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Quotation MarkQuotation Marks: How to Use Quotation Marks
Quotation marks are cool little guys. Not only do they have the ability to indicate dialogue, they have an amazing ability to suggest sarcasm or irony. But if used incorrectly, quotation marks can communicate irony when none is intended. Imagine seeing an advertisement for pizza that said: WE USE REAL 'CHEESE.' Hmmm… Not sure I want to eat that.
SemicolonSemicolons: How to Use Semicolons
Semicolons have often been considered the 'most feared punctuation mark.' But don’t fret too much: follow the rules for using semicolons and you’ll do just fine. Truth is, once you get the hang of these puppies, your writing will see dramatic improvement. The next time you write, give semicolons a try. You’ll be glad you did."

Click for larger, more legible size

Friday, June 20, 2014

Amazon Brings Shopping to a Whole New Level With Fire Phone

Amazon today demonstrated its latest product, the AT&T smartphone it calls the "Fire Phone". Built to resemble an iPhone 5, the new device will certainly work ok as a mobile phone, but seems to be designed as a digital shopping device for the 21st century. A dedicated "Firefly" button lets you take a picture, scan a bar or QR code, or listen to a song--then immediately calculate where and how you can buy it as a CD, DVD, MP3 download, physical or digital e-book. 

The "Fire" has an unusual, sophisticated system of cameras which allow for incredibly smooth movement when turning the phone from landscape to portrait orientation.  But it is still the device's ability to funnel every whim of its owner into the Amazon universe of sales that is most remarkable.  The phone's price wil begin at $199, but will include a free $99 one-year subscription to Amazon Prime (the company's lending library of music, movies and e-books).

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article: 

Excerpt: "The device is a cellphone, but making calls on it got almost no attention at all at the event in Seattle where it was unveiled. The Fire phone, the product of four years of research and development, offers Amazon fans the chance to live in an Amazon-themed world, where just about every element can be identified, listed, ranked, shared and, of course, ordered.

It offered a view of a mobile future that will be alluring to some but might repel others.

If the device works as described, and Amazon entices even a small portion of its 250 million active customers to buy one, the Fire could accelerate Amazon’s already intense competition with other retailers and tech companies, not to mention heightening some of its current battles with suppliers.

As if to underline the no-gloves nature of the battle, a promotional video in the first few moments of the presentation took a direct slap at Apple. Both Apple and Samsung were criticized as having inferior cameras in their devices, and there seemed to be other jabs at technology like Google Glass.

The Fire’s product recognition feature, Firefly, 'is potentially a real threat to bricks and mortar retailers,' said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. 'Scan a product or listen to music, and you’re delivered straight to the page on Amazon on which you can purchase it. Impulse shopping just went to a new level.'

Amazon’s phone — consumers can order it now; it ships starting July 25 — is arriving as the leading technology companies are increasingly trying to develop an array of services and products to keep people from wandering, the digital equivalent of Disney not wanting you to leave Disneyland for lunch. Microsoft brought out a tablet; Facebook tried a phone; Google is experimenting with a shopping and delivery service."


 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Universal, Secret Language of Airports

Fruitiger in use at Charles deGaulle Airport
It doesn't matter whether you're in Buffalo or Berlin, the signage used in the world's airports is reassuringly familiar for confused or weary travelers.  And one of the reasons is that the typefaces you see are amazingly standardized. Without consciously setting uniform typographic standards, the information you read at the world's airports will have a 75% chance of being presented in one of the three universal travel information fonts: Helvetica, Frutiger or Clearview.

The reasons for these three are as logical as their no-nonsense, sans-serif appearance.  Helvetica is the default type for international business, logos and modern signs.  Fruitiger is a simplified, readable font that proved a success after its original mission of improving information signage at France's Charles deGaulle Airport.  And Clearview was specifically designed for long-distance recognition and readability on highway signs. Simple, similar and yet memorable, the combination of these three typefaces immediately bring to mind long-distance travel and its signs.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Gizmodo

Link to article:

Excerpt: "It makes perfect sense that airports would employ sans serif typefaces, which are easier to read at a distance (and bad for small, on-screen type). But there are also some pretty sweet little details found within these typefaces which make them winners for airport signage. Here are the three you're most likely to find at an airport near you.

Helvetica 

The granddaddy of wayfinding signage is the half-century-old Helvetica, which was developed in Switzerland. It has a supposedly 'neutral' vibe which feels vaguely familiar and comfortingly classic, yet it doesn't look dated. For readability it is especially embraced due to the distinctive shapes of its letters—including the lowercase 'a' which will never be mistaken for an 'o,' for example.

Frutiger

Frutiger was actually designed for an airport—Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris—by Adrian Fruitger in 1975. Fruitger had developed the beloved Univers, another good sans serif font, but wanted to create something custom that would reflect the contemporary architecture of the airport. The typeface is known for having prominent ascenders and descenders—the parts of the letterforms that stick up and down like 'l' and 'p'—and wide apertures, or partially-enclosed openings inside letters like 'e' and 'n.'

Clearview

Specifically developed for the American interstate highway system in the early 2000s, Clearview was almost data-driven based on legibility at a distance. The biggest changes to make the type more readable came in the expansion of counter spaces, the enclosed spaces in letters like 'a' and 'g,' and higher relative heights from lowercase to uppercase, like the difference between 'x' and 'X'."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Google's Sky Imaging Plans Get "Up to the Creepy Line"

Google's recent efforts have taken to the skies.  From Project Loon using overhead balloons to provide rural internet access to using the tiny satellites of Skybox to catalogue detailed photos and video from high above the earth, its latest projects are one step from intrusive spying on the earth. Chairman Eric Schmidt has joked that the company’s policy is to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

But what are the company's high-flying new initiatives really after? Are drones, balloons and mini spy satellites moving from scifi fiction to Defense Department nightmare to corporate innovation?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
SLATE

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Now Google is going for the bird’s-eye view. Last year it announced Project Loon, a seemingly quixotic foray into high-altitude balloons. Two months ago it acquired Titan Aerospace, a startup that makes high-altitude solar-powered drones. And this week it paid $500 million for Skybox Imaging, a startup that builds tiny satellites that can shoot high-resolution photos and videos of the Earth below. The latest rumors have Google in talks with Richard Branson’s space-tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

Ask Google what all the balloons, drones, and satellites are for, and you’ll get an answer straight from the mouth of a Miss America contestant. Why, they’re for bringing Internet access to the world’s poor, improving Google Maps, fighting deforestation, and aiding in humanitarian relief efforts!

I don’t doubt that Google is sincere in those goals. Project Loon in particular seems to have hatched from a genuine desire to find new ways of providing Internet access to rural areas. (At this point, there are no downward-facing cameras on the balloons, unlike on the drones and satellites.) But it’s hard to fathom that a company as strategically minded as Google would buy a drone company and a satellite company just to lend a helping hand to some NGOs. As for Google Maps, it already gets high-quality satellite imagery from a company called DigitalGlobe, and as the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer points out, the two firms just signed a new multi-year agreement.

It’s important to understand that Skybox is not just another satellite-imaging company. To fully grasp its potential—and its natural affinity with Google’s mission—you have to look more closely at what it was doing before Google bought it. Fortunately, we have a marvelously high-resolution snapshot in the form of an in-depth feature article that David Samuels wrote for Wired a year ago. The headline: 'Inside a Startup’s Plan to Turn a Swarm of DIY Satellites Into an All-Seeing Eye.'

Commercial imaging satellites tend to be big, expensive, and seriously high-tech, which is why there are fewer than a dozen in orbit today. But Skybox has found a way to make them cheap and light, using ingenious image-processing software to cover the hardware’s shortcomings. So far, it has only launched one, which can only shoot 90 seconds of video at a time. With enough resources, though, Skybox could launch dozens of them, generating near-real-time images of any spot on the globe throughout the day. That’s like having a closed-circuit TV network that covers the whole world."

This is a full motion HD 60-second video captured by SkySat-1 on March 25, 2014. Please click on the HD toggle to see the video in full resolution.

For more information, visit us at skybox.com.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why is the World Cup Logo Sad?

Following in the unfortunate tradition of the London 2012 Olympic logo that was described as a swastika or a depiction of Lisa Simpson performing oral sex, the logo for the current 2014 World Cup Brazil has its own unintended visual association.  Instead of a hand holding up a soccer ball in triumph, the multicolored abstracted design resembled a dejected or embarrassed soccer fan doing a disappointed facepalm.

If this association were completely random and divorced from reality, then the jokes wouldn't hit their mark. But since these were the games that were to launch Brazil onto the wold stage as a major power, and instead reminded the world how far the nation stil has to catch up in infrastructure and economic fairmess, the logo's initial sad impression seems likely to stick.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Yahoo! Sports

Link to article:
Brazil's World Cup Logo Looks Like Patrick Stewart's Famous Facepalm

Excerpt: "The thing about the World Cup is that 31 of the 32 teams are going to head home emptyhanded, their dreams of victory punctuated by at least one moment of extreme disappointment.

And how does one commemorate that heartbreak? Well, they only need to look as far as the 2014 World Cup logo to see a perfect symbol of any sorrow or shame that might befall their team. As has been pointed out in many corners the past month, the yellow hand in the logo makes the shape look more like a 'facepalm' than the intended World Cup trophy.

Noted soccer fan and actor Sir Patrick Stewart turned in the most noted facepalm while potraying Captain Jean Luc-Picard in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' but other instances in popular culture serve as groan-worthy currency when people engage in the online meme."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Starbucks Adding Wireless Cellphone Charging

Along with the ubiquitous laptops plugged in around the perimeter of any Starbucks, recently a spate of dying-out cellphones have been added to the competition for an empty outlet. Always on the hunt for a new trend, Starbucks is now rolling out tables and counters embedded with Powermat wireless induction chargers (sponsored by manufacturer Duracell).  

Since no current smartphones have induction charging capability built-in, to use the invisible chargers requires a small adapter plugged into your phone.  Then set your phone on the counter, and watch it charge away.  The tech-savvy Bay Area is first to get the new technology, and if the trial program is successful, expect nationwide Starbucks locations to follow.  And if this form of charging catches on expect the next generation of phones to have the capability built in without the need for an adapter.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Los Angeles Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Starbucks is rolling out wireless charging stations in its coffee shops nationwide, starting with the Bay Area.

'Stores will be equipped with "Powermat Spots" — designated areas on tables and counters where customers can place their compatible device and charge wirelessly,' the chain said in a statement.

The charging stations come from Duracell Powermat, a joint venture between Procter & Gamble’s Duracell brand and Powermat Technologies.
Every smartphone and tablet on the market will be able to be charged. - CEO of Powermat Technologies Ran Poliakine

'Every smartphone and tablet on the market will be able to be charged,' Ran Poliakine, chief executive of Powermat Technologies, told the Los Angeles Times.

However, it’s generally not quite as simple as placing a phone with a depleted battery onto the charging station: The technology isn’t baked into most mobile devices.

To get around that issue, users can plug a small Powermat accessory called the Ring into their device’s charging port and place the Ring onto the charging station. Another option is to use a compatible charging case — Powermat sells them for the iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S3 — or portable battery.

'Over time, we expect that these features will be embedded in the device,' Poliakine said."

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hollywood Sign Was Not the Only Hilltop Icon in LA

One of the most recognizable symbols of Los Angeles stands atop Mt. Lee in the Hollywood Hills, the world famous HOLLYWOOD sign.  Built in 1923, the sign was first erected as a temporary advertisement for a new real estate development in the nearby hills called "Hollywoodland".  The sign itself had the"-land" appended to its famous "Hollywood" portion until the sign's first refurbishment in 1949.  The letters, 50 feet tall by 30 feet wide, were designed to be read by cars passing by as far as Wilshire Boulevard.  After the sign's first decade, the fame of Hollywood became far more important than any collection of hillside homes for sale, and the sign became an iconic symbol for Los Angeles' glamorous film capital.

But Hollywoodland was not the only Southern California real estate development to advertise with a gigantic hilltop sign.  From Beverly Crest to Eagle Rock, hills across the LA metropolitan area in the 1920s were festooned with similar gargantuan white-lettered standing advertisement signs.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Southland

Link to article:

Excerpt: "HOLLYWOODLAND's voice was not alone. Other hillsides also spoke. Across Los Angeles in the 1920s, signs announced new real-estate subdivisions in big block letters perched high above the city. BEVERLY CREST. BRYN MAWR. TRYON RIDGE.

Time has largely forgotten these other signs. One still rusts away in the chaparral day, toppled and discarded long ago.

The Hollywoodland Sign—a mere real-estate advertisement when it rose from the face of Mt. Lee in November 1923, as disposable as the rest—might have suffered a similar fate. But as Hollywood soon became an accepted metonym for L.A.'s glamorous film industry, the sign's letters acquired a new meaning. Nine decades later, it's become one of the city's greatest monuments—a journey richly chronicled by USC cultural historian Leo Braudy.

Beverly Crest 
Seemingly a close relative of the Hollywoodland Sign, Beverly Crest's block-letter sign first appeared on the slopes above Coldwater Canyon in December 1923—only one month after Hollywoodland's. Large signs weren't all the two developments had in common; they also both featured elaborate stone gates modeled after fairy-tale castles.

Like Beverly Terrace, Beverly Crest was the work of George E. Read. Though its sign rose in 1923, houses and lots didn't hit the market until 1926. Here's a 1926 view of the Beverly Crest Sign from the USC Libraries' Dick Whittington Photography Collection:"


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Now You Can Order a Custom-Built Home at the Mall

Shopping centers used to be populated with clothing stores, a food court, and if you were lucky, a multiplex cinema.  But now that the retail landscape has changed, shopping centers have diversified, offering everything from government offices to medical clinics.  

But a shopping center in Roseville, California is taking a new novel option to the shopping center experience, as its KB Homes design center allows prospective home buyers to pick out, customize and finalize the sale of a new custom-built home.  Buyers like being able to see and touch the upgrades in flooring, lighting, plumbing, and materials, and then make their choices in a relaxed, pressure-free environment.  The company plans to export this "upscale" home-buying experience to other areas and shopping centers.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The Sacramento Bee

Link to article:

Excerpt: "The folks at KB Home, one of the region’s largest homebuilders, are hoping that after shopping at Macy’s or REI, you’ll stop in at their new showroom in a Roseville shopping center, browse the displays of gleaming faucets and shining chandeliers – and maybe buy a house.

Plopping a 'design studio' into a bustling retail center is a novel effort by the production homebuilder to give buyers more of a custom-home experience. It’s also a way to lure in potential new customers, attracted by the sleek kitchens and electric-car charging stations on display.

In last decade’s housing cycle, subdivision home shoppers typically picked out carpets and colors at construction sites or in business-park settings, with fewer choices and less ambiance.

At KB’s studio in Roseville, near the Westfield Galleria at Roseville Parkway and Galleria Boulevard, buyers sit in leather chairs sipping complimentary beverages, while a professional design consultant walks them through their choices. There are racks of doors, shelves of flooring and walls of cabinet samples on display in the airy, modern setting.

'It sets the stage for customer choice,' said Chris Cady, president of KB’s central California division.

Cady said KB plans to export the concept from the Sacramento area to its homebuilding regions across the nation.

'We’re moving to more of these because they’re a selling point,' he said."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

US Pavilion at Venice Biennale Features Lowly Fonts in High Design

The challenge for the designers of OFFICEUS, the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, was to create a visual graphic identity for all the printed and web materials representing the US.  Pentagram, the design company tasked with the job, decided to up the ante on the graphic challenge by choosing two of the most common system fonts available free on every computer, and raising them to iconic status with careful attention to placement, leading and kerning.

The results, using simple Arial and Times New Roman, demonstrate how using the most basic of typefaces can still yield glorious results when treated with care and thought. Natasha Jen, the head of Pentagram's design team, says they spent a year tweaking the nuances of each font, paying particular attention to the spacing, kerning and tracking of each letter. “It has much less to do with the typefaces as an object, and more in how you use them,” she says. “I was relearning all of this, and that was a very beautiful thing.”

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
WIRED

Link to article:

Excerpt: "System fonts are like Top 40 radio: Fine for the masses but easy to snub if you’re of more discerning taste. It’s easy to look down on the default typefaces we find on our PCs and Macs (think Verdana, Comic Sans and Arial), especially if you’re in the business of making fonts look good. 'As graphic designers, we tend to spend a lot of time and energy picking out bespoke fonts,' says Natasha Jen, a partner at Pentagram. 'My habit was to always think, what will be a new cool font for this, or what’s the most exquisite cut for that?'''''''''''''

It’s funny then, that for her newest project, Jen and her team actually did the exact opposite. When asked to design a graphic identity for the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Pentagram decided to do it using two of the most common fonts available: Arial and Times New Roman. With these fonts alone, Pentagram designed a sprawling identity system that encompassed a logo, letter templates, infographics, publication layout and maps. And if you ask us, the fonts look pretty damn good.

Deciding to design an entire identity with two of the most widely-used fonts is certainly an unorthodox choice. In fact, asked about the last time she used Times New Roman or Arial in a logo, Jen responds, 'Never.' But the biennale identity was born more from practicality.

Less Headaches for Everyone

Ideally, graphic identities do more than look pretty. And while Pentagram’s vision actually contributes to the efficiency of the work environment, graphic designers will be graphic designers. 'The challenge was how do you use these two seemingly mundane fonts to actually create interesting design to create something of beauty,' says Jen.

The U.S. pavilion will be a working office, where six architects will conduct business as usual for the 25 week span of the biennale. Sure, it would look cool if you chose a stylish bespoke font in your letter template, but you’d give everyone headaches because of it. Pentagram wanted the identity’s typefaces to be useful. 'Fonts aren’t something people think about until they become a problem,' says Jen. 'These fonts are automatically in every computer system, so the staff working in the office will never confront issues.'"


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Endangered Benefits of Writing by Hand

The older generation of the world still remembers when handwriting was a course in the first few years of school.  It seemed like drudgery, executing the shapes of letters over and over until they became more legible with practice. At the time, when every assignment was completed with the aid of physical writing by pen or pencil, it was a necessary skill. 

Now that computer keyboards are used by even toddlers, the skill of cursive and block handwriting seems to be an archaic practice that will inevitably be lost to the march of history.  But new studies in the fields of learning and neurology are proving that forming the letters of speech by hand engages parts of the brain that are left untouched by typng on a keyboard. And students who take notes with actual pen and paper retain the knowledge of the lecture better than those who cut and paste from a written lecture, or even type their own notes on a laptop. Maybe handwriting is not, or at least shouldn't be, an endangered species.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:
What's Lost as Handwriting Fades

Excerpt: "Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

'When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,' said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Coll├Ęge de France in Paris. 'There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.'

A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Downtown LA Development Takes a New Turn

In the last decade, rapid construction and redevelopment ofthe historic downtown core of Los Angeles has spread, first to the West toward the Wilshire area West of the 110 freeway, and then to the East toward the Los Angeles River. But now the plans for a giant new development called SoLA Village has brought redevelopment growth in a new direction, South of the 10 Freeway at Washington Boulevard.  The development project moves into an area that has been overlooked until now, and will bring a 19-story hotel and condo towers of 32 and 35 stories with its 1.66 million square foot construction plan.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Curbed

Link to article:

Excerpt: ""Whoa" comes to mind at these very tall designs for SoLA Village, the massive, $1-billion development that could be heading for two parking lots near the Reef Building (formerly known as the LA Mart), just outside of Downtown in Historic South-Central. The 1.66-million-square-foot development is just south of Washington Boulevard on either side of Broadway—an area that, in sharp contrast to its neighbors just north of the freeway (South Park, DTLA), has been pretty overlooked in terms of big-time fancy development.

We just reported that the project, being developed by the Reef people, would include a 208-room hotel, nearly 1,500 residential units, retail, restaurants and bars, and a grocery store, which is pretty big news for this part of town. Today, the ante's been upped. The hotel, we now learn, will be 19 stories tall. And of the 1,449 residential units will be spread across two condo towers of 32 and 35 stories!, according to the LA Times.

SoLA Village's condo towers will hold 900 units; there will also be 549 apartments (in low- and mid-rise buildings; sorry renters), including 21 live/work spaces that will likely be aimed at the creative types that the art- and design-focused Reef Building caters to. (Even at this early stage, developers are planning for an art gallery.) There will also be a heaping helping of outdoor space in the form of public plazas, courtyards, and patios to entice pedestrians. As predicted, developers are hoping to promote usage of the nearby Blue Line on Washington Boulevard, doing so through a bike share program and dedicated bike spaces for apartment- and condo-dwellers."
 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Video of the Week: See Ed Ruscha's Hollywood Blvd in 1973 and 2002

Edward Ruscha is an LA art institution.  He chronicled the visual vernacular of LA streets through his photography, especially with his renowned extreme panoramas of continuous Hollywood Boulevard streetscapes captured with car-mounted cameras.

Now you can watch a YouTube video that simultaneously scans the stretch of Hollywood east of Vine Street captured by Ruscha's camera in 1973 and 29 years later in 2002. The more recent changes in Hollywood leave us hoping for another update of the same photo panorama in 2015 or 2020.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Curbed Los Angeles

Link to article:

Excerpt: "Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha's fascination with the 'vernacular architecture' of Los Angeles drove him to exhaustively photograph several of the city's arterial streets over a period of more than 40 years. More than a million of his images are now safely guarded in the Getty's Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Archives, including many continuous photographs that he took with a car-mounted camera. Two sets of these extended photos—one documenting a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard west of Hollywood and Vine in 1973, the other showing that same stretch in 2002—have been hauled out of the archive and turned into the video below from the National Building Museum. The photos line up exactly, showing where a building was or, in some cases, has been all this time. Frederick's of Hollywood, for example, was selling unmentionables in 2002 in the same building it was back in 1973. Sadly, the video doesn't have any narration or music, but would probably be enhanced by any soundtrack of LA-inspired music from either era."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Could Soylent High-Tech Meal Replacement Do Away With Food?

It started last year as a Kickstarter campaign, and now is available to the general public.  The brainchild of 25-year-old Silicon Valley inventor Robert Rhinehart, Soylent, a blend of oat flour, maltodextrin and 30 other ingredients, is meant to provide the white-noise version of eating, basic nutrition stripped of taste and pleasure. Users have reported weight loss over the first weeks of consuming nothing but the slightly gritty beige blender drink, though that's not surprising.  Perhaps it could provide a "cold turkey" intervention for emotional overeaters, and give them a base level of nutrition completely divorced from any component of delight or reward.

Interested consumers can order starter kits or more substantial 12- or 16-week supplies of the Soylent food replacement, and apparently sales are so brisk that shipments are just now catching up with orders.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The New York Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "I just spent more than a week experiencing Soylent, the most joyless new technology to hit the world since we first laid eyes on MS-DOS.

Soylent is a drink mix invented by a group of engineers who harbor ambitions of shaking up the global food business. Robert Rhinehart, the 25-year-old co-founder and chief executive of the firm selling the drink, hit upon the idea when he found himself spending too much time and money searching for nutritious meals while he was working on a wireless-tech start-up in San Francisco. Using a process Mr. Rhinehart calls 'scientific,' the firm claims to have mixed a cornucopia of supplements to form a technologically novel food that offers the complete set of nutrients the human body needs for survival.

You can live on Soylent alone, Mr. Rhinehart claims, though in practice he said customers would most likely use it to replace just their 'staple meals,' by which he meant most of the junk you eat every day to fill yourself up. Mr. Rhinehart argued that Soylent, which costs about $3 per serving, is cheaper, easier to prepare and more nutritious than much of the food that makes up the typical American officer worker’s diet today.

About a week and a half ago, I began drinking Soylent every day. I can’t recommend that you do the same. For a purported breakthrough with such grand plans for reshaping the food industry, I found Soylent to be a punishingly boring, joyless product. From the plain white packaging to the purposefully bland, barely sweet flavor to the motel-carpet beige hue of the drink itself, everything about Soylent screams function, not fun. It may offer complete nourishment, but only at the expense of the aesthetic and emotional pleasures many of us crave in food.

And although the drink is tastier than its horror sci-fi name implies, the whole idea of replacing lots of your meals with the same stuff day after day is a nightmarish prospect. It suggests that Soylent’s creators have forgotten a basic ingredient found in successful tech products, not to mention in most good foods. That ingredient is delight."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

They Like Things Big in Texas, Even Starbucks Frappuccinos!

First there were the tall, grande, and venti sizes. Add in the rarely-ordered 8-ounce short and supersized, 31-ounce trenta.  But Texas likes things super-duper, gigantically oversized, so it only makes sense that a Dallas man brought his own gallon-sized 128-ounce glass to order "off the menu" and create the biggest, most-expensive Starbucks drink so far. 

His custom frappuccino was priced at $54.75, and contained 60 shots of espresso for a total of 4500 mg of caffeine. Even consumed over three days, the whopping drink made it hard for the customer, Andrew Chifari, to sleep for a few nights.  It gives "caffeine nerves" an entirely new meaning, and is not recommended by Starbucks or health professionals.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Reuters

Link to article:

Excerpt: "It took a Texas man five days to polish off what has been hailed as one of the most expensive drinks produced at Starbucks, a several-thousand calorie frozen concoction that included 60 shots of espresso and was topped with whipped cream.

'It was delicious, very strong, very sweet,' Andrew Chifari said on Thursday. 'After the first day, the ice crystals had melted and it was just good strong iced coffee.'

Chifari, 27, entered a Dallas Starbucks on May 24 with a 128-ounce glass and asked baristas to create the most expensive frappuccino that would fit in his container, but still taste good.

The drink cost $54.75, but Chifari walked away without paying a cent after racking up enough points under a loyalty plan for a free drink of his choice.

Starbucks does not want others to follow suit.

'This particular customization was certainly excessive. It's something that we don't encourage,' said spokeswoman Maggie Jantzen.

Starbucks did not say whether it would revise its free-drink policies in response to Chifari's order.

The coffee monstrosity is now recognized as the current record holder of the most expensive Starbucks drink by Caffeine Informer, an Internet site that keeps track of the coffee industry."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Twitter Changes Its Iconic Font

Since its beginning, Twitter has defaulted to the iconic Helvetica Neue font that stands as the common graphic language of international business. Now in an attempt to distinguish itself from the pack, Twitter's introduced another iconic font, Tobias Frere-Jones' Gotham, commissioned by GQ magazine and recently used as the logo of President Obama's  election campaigns, as the default typeface on profile pages. 

As is usual for changes from a familiar user experience, the reaction is mixed to negative. Since Twitter has a reputation for being flexible and rolling back changes that are not deemed to work, it will be interesting to see which direction this change goes in.  Will we see Gotham taking over the news feed and notifications area, or will we see it disappearing and Helvetica Neue coming back as the common look for all Twitter pages?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The Verge

Link to article:
Twitter Quietly Changes its Font

Excerpt: "Weeks after rolling out its new profile design to all its users, Twitter's made another big change to how its site looks. Today the company said it's dropped Helvetica Neue for Gotham, a font that was used heavily in Barack Obama's first presidential run, as well as by GQ magazine, which ordered the font from designer Tobias Frere-Jones. So far, the change can be found on individual profile pages, though has not extended to the home feed, notifications, or discovery pages.

'We primarily use the Gotham font family: elegant and direct, stylish but not exclusive,' Twitter explained. 'Putting well-designed words in our product enhances the user experience.' Not everyone seems to agree with that, however.

Twitter's been known to roll back a bad decision if enough users complain, though font choice may not the highest priority. The decision also does not affect Twitter's mobile app, or third-party client apps that typically offer the option to change what fonts are used."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shopping Center Construction and Redevelopment is UP

With 400 new shopping centers totalling more than 129 million square feet being built, shopping center construction and redevelopment in the US is definitely on the upswing, with building bouncing back to the highest levels since 2007.  The ICSC REcon in Las Vegas last week was abuzz with excitement over new development large and small, and repurposing old strip mall centers anchored by supermarket locations  shuttered from chain downsizing. Overall in the US, retailers are still experiencing the pains of a changing environment due to etailing, but shopping centers are still surviving and adapting.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
CoStar

Link to article:
US Shopping Center Development, Redevelopment Quietly Up

Excerpt: "One of the main takeaways from last week's ICSC RECon conference for Matt Winn, global retail COO in Atlanta for Cushman & Wakefield, is that retail developers are back in business in the U.S and around the world.

'For the first time in a few years, large scale mixed-use projects seem to be getting traction,' according to Winn. 'In the U.S., there is no doubt that they are more confined to the smile markets of the East and West Coast as well as the Sun Belt. But they are definitely there.'

U.S. shopping center completions increased for the first time since 2007 last year, with nearly 400 new centers totaling more than 129 million square feet delivered, according to Cushman & Wakefield's Global Shopping Center Development Report, issued in Las Vegas last week. Canada also saw a dramatic increase in new shopping center deliveries in 2013 following six straight years of declining construction volume.

Granted, the numbers are low compared to history, with growth in GLA (gross leasable area) at roughly early 1990s levels. However, deliveries constituted a 12.7% increase over 2012, accounting for roughly 18% of total new space put in place since the economic downturn in 2008.

New development and redevelopment were buzz words on panels and in the hallways and exhibition halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center last week. Activity at present is more of a ripple than a wave due to a lack of high-quality assets and construction lenders who remain wary about financing ground-up projects, panelists at the Marcus & Millichap Retail Trends 2014 in Las Vegas agreed.

'The biggest issue a high-growth retailer has lack of available real estate,' said Ted Frumkin, senior vice president of business development for Sprouts Farmers Market, one of the sleeper success stories among specialty grocery tenants with 172 stores in eight western states. 'We want to grow, but when we've gone out, the build to suit or new development has not been there over the last couple of years.'

To date, Sprouts had been able to find second-generation space. But as those locations fill up, the chain has explored a variety of options for growth, including working with smaller preferred developers and major developers such as REITs, Frumkin said. Sprouts is also watching the Safeway-Albertsons merger for opportunities to take store spaces opening up due to consolidation.

The strategy is working, with Sprouts opening 19 new stores this year, including an expansion into Atlanta in June, and a goal of 14% annual growth in new stores and a long-term white space goal of 1,200 units, Frumkin said.

'We're going to have to work a lot harder out in the markets. Even in high vacancy markets like Phoenix, a lot of the space that's empty is not desirable for a lot of tenants. The lenders still are not freeing up the capital to build projects for us.' "