April 26, 2011

The most expensive book on flies EVER

screen shot from Amazon, taken from Michael Eisen's It's Not Junk blog

You may have missed this, but for a little while earlier this year one of the most expensive science books in the world was a little known work called "The Making of a Fly" by Peter Lawrence. At least that's what a couple of book sellers on Amazon.com thought. It turns out both of these sellers have automatic systems in place that notice the price competitors have quoted for a book, and then adjust their price accordingly. In the case of "The Making of a Fly" two sellers were trapped in a feedback loop where each one set their prices based on the other's price. This process ran unchecked for who knows how many days before the book (which had an original list price of US$70) reached the insane level of over two million (US) dollars.

Evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen credits a postdoc in his lab with first noticing this craziness, and bringing it to his attention. Eisen tracked the climb in price day by day and he's written up a fascinating blog post analyzing the automated algorithms at work here.

Lessons to be drawn from this innocent run amuck process in light of the huge tangle of automated stock trading systems running right now all around the world is left as an exercise for the reader.

Comments welcome via email to comments-at-spurgeonworld.com

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April 13, 2011

Help redesign LA's time travel store

photo of the Time Travel Mart from good.is

This is kinda by definition the best design opportunity in history. The Echo Park Time Travel Mart, Los Angeles' first store devoted to the needs of time travelers (Wait, or is it the last store devoted to time travel? When time goes both ways this whole first/last thing gets so confusing) wants a new look for their front windows. Now it's going to be quite a challenge to come up with a store that sells replacement robot emotion chips, canned mammoth chunks, and ski Pangea posters. One that refuses to sell fire to any hominid who can't stand upright. One that sells Viking odorant. But it should would be fun to try.

Anyway, the Time Travel Mart folks really ARE looking for proposals to re-do their storefront and give it the perfect timeless time travel feel. The deadline for proposals is May 1st, which isn't a lot of time, unless of course you have access to time travel. In that case take all of the time you need. Here are all of the details, and a write-up about it from the folks at GOOD.

Comments welcome via email to comments-at-spurgeonworld.com

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November 09, 2008

Fake food factory

photo of fake food being built

Tokyo-based writer and photojournalist Tony McNicol recently visited one of the strangest companies in all of Japan...Maiduru Co., creators of astonishingly realistic fake food.

Maiduru spares no effort or expense when it comes to making their artificial food identical to the real thing. They often make molds of the actual dishes they're mimicking, and real ingredients are often embedded in the models.

McNicol has a write-up of his visit to Maiduru (in pdf format) on his blog.


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September 06, 2007

The ever-changing store

image from Grand Opening store in New York City

It's a basic rule of the retail biz that stores should change their displays and inventory on a regular basis. A store called Grand Opening in Manhattan is that idea on steroids. Every month to three months the store is gutted and then completely recreated, selling something completely different. A while back it was a showroom for antique barns that would be lovingly disassembled and reconstructed at a site of your choosing. Now they're specializing in selling table tennis equipment (go figure).

But if you're looking for ping pong stuff, hurry up! Starting next week, Grand Opening is turning into a mini drive-in cinema space. If you're interested in what they'll be doing after that, sign up for their mailing list.

Tags: retail  shopping

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August 10, 2007

Sample Lab

Sample Lab photo

That hotbed of consumer innovation, Tokyo, is host to another new idea...sampling salons. The Sample Lab lets members (you have to pay a thousand Yen for a membership) test out everything from cosmetics to electronics to foods. Members get to try, and buy, products before they're released to the general public. And the manufacturers get product feedback before their items go into general release.

The Sample Lab has a website (in Japanese) and there's a write-up about it on Springwise.com.

Tags: shopping

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July 17, 2007

DIY Strawz

photo of DIY straws

Even the simplest act offers opportunities for elaboration. Take, for instance, the act of drinking. Sure, you can just take a drink with nothing but a glass and a straw, but where's the fun in that? Any kid worth their skinned knees will will go crazy for DIY Strawz from Think Geek.

Each DIY Strawz kit comes with 36 parts -- 20 different junction connectors and 16 straw segments. And of course you can combine multiple sets to create truly gargantuan drinking apparatuses.

Kits are $12.99 from Think Geek.

Tags: toys

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June 24, 2007

Happy 50th anniversary Frisbee!

Photo of a dog playing Frisbee. Photo CC licensed and available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wausaublog/210385400/

An important day today. It was exactly 50 years ago (June 24, 1957) that Wham-O toys stopped calling their new plastic flying disc toys "Pluto Platters" and started calling them "Frisbees".

According to legend, the term Frisbee is derived from the Frisbie Bakery in New Haven, CT. Years before the plastic toys made their debut, students at Yale University would toss around empty metal pie plates from the bakery. (An original Frisbie Bakery pie tin is one of my most prized possessions).

The SJ Mercury News has an article on the name change.

(Photo by wausaublog/Flickr.com)

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March 15, 2007

Mixable bottles on the way

photo sequence of choice enabled bottle

Demand beverage choice but have difficulty actually making that choice? Advanced consumer product design to the rescue! A Massachusetts company called Ipifini is developing something they're calling Choice-enabled packaging. Basically. they're containers for liquid (soda bottles, paint cans, perfume bottles, etc.) that have small burstable chambers built in. Squeeze one of the chambers and in pops, injecting its contents (soda flavoring, paint coloring, perfume scent and sex pheromones) into the main container.

The idea has applications beyond mere consumer choice, it also has value for liquids that shouldn't be mixed until right before use...glues, certain medicines, stuff like that.

Ipifini's website is just a bunch of PR talk, but they have a pdf explaining the choice-enabled packaging concept.

(Thanks technovelgy.com).


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February 27, 2007

Never worry about lost keys again

NewYourKey.com logo

One of the measures of the march of civilization is the increasing number of ways in which civilization covers your ass when you screw up. Get a disease, you've got antibiotics. Get a flat tire, you've got AAA. And now, lose your keys, get new ones anytime day or night.

NewYourKey.com is a new service (so far only available in New York City) that keeps a copy of your keys. When you lose your keys, you give them a call, prove your identity, and they deliver your backup keys to you, wherever you are in the city.

They store your backup keys in a secure facility and they deliberately don't record any location information about the keys, so even if they were stolen, the thieves wouldn't know where to use them.


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December 02, 2006

This is how I want to be remembered 30 years after my death

Elvis Reeses cup

Next August is the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and there's going to be a hunka hunka big pile of observances, remembrances, parties, festivals, and god know what all.

One sign of the excess we can expect is this... according to AdAge, Hershey Co. will roll out a peanut butter and banana flavored version of Reese's cups, a homage to the King's fondness for fried peanut-butter and banana sandwiches.

Elvis also continues to be the King when it comes to posthumous moneymaking, bringing in more than $45 million last years in music sales and all sorts of wacky endorsements. (My favorite, the Elvis Presley "Taking Care of Business" Smith & Wesson revolver).

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November 13, 2006

Customized chocolate

cocoalocoa chocolate

Dying to know what to get me for Christmas?(*) You could do a lot worse than the ultra-high end Cocoa Locoa Bespoke Chocolate Service. For a $250 to $450 fee, master chocolatier Karalee LaRochelle meets with you to learn about your personal chocolate preferences, and then designs and creates a selection of custom chocolates that precisely match your needs and desires. (The finished chocolates themselves cost $1.50 each).

[Thanks Cool Hunting]

(*) Not bloody likely, but worth a try.


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November 10, 2006

International symbol for breastfeeding

finalist for the breastfeeding icon contest

AIGA elevator symbolEver since the AIGA designed 50 universal travel icons (like this elevator symbol) back in the 70s, they've become part of the venacular of modern life.

But those symbols don't cover every situation. Recently Mothering magazine sponsored a contest to design a universal symbol for a breastfeeding area. Check out the 12 semi-finalists in the competition, as well as some also-rans.

The magazine will announce the winner on November 13, and release the winning image into the public domain for free worldwide use.

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November 01, 2006

Wanna get married at the airport?

Say Yes and Go poster

It's tough to make a profit in the air travel business these days, but it's not just airlines that are feeling the squeeze of higher fuel prices and increased security costs, airports are too.

In an effort to bring in a bit more cash, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has offered a novel new service...airport based wedding packages. They offer four different wedding plans, from the quick "Say Yes and Go" where you tie the knot and then dash to catch a departing flight, to "Ticket to Paradise", where your nuptials can include your own chartered jet.

If you're ready to tie the knot airport style, check out the main Schiphol wedding website. It's in Dutch, but they also have an English summary page.

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October 15, 2006

Shut the #*@! hell up!

image of Revenge CD

Trying to make peace with your noisy neighbors may be well and good, but sometimes you just have to fight dirty. If that's the case, you may want to pick up the Revenge CD. It's loaded with 20 ear-splitting (power drill, drum being played by a child), annoying (whining dog, kid practicing scales on the violin), and impossible to ignore (thundering orgasm) sounds. A pair of earplugs is included with every CD. $18 from wishingfish.com.

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October 08, 2006

History of Malt Liquor

Colt 45 ad

One of the most fascinating things I've read in weeks is...of all things...a history of malt liquor. Freelance writer Kihm Winship, who often writes about beer & brewing, wrote a great piece outlining malt liquor's origins, history, and marketing:

Mandingo Malt Liquor was marketed as a tribute to the "The Great Mandingo Empire of Mali, 1240-1400" in a can bearing a map of Africa. But students of popular culture might also find it evocative of the 1975 film starring Ken Norton, about a well-muscled slave who is drawn into the thrall, and eventually the boudoir, of his white master's wife. The film gave its name to the phenomenon of white women being attracted to black men, especially if the men are as good looking as Ken Norton. This message-laden potion was brewed by Mandingo Beer Inc, in the state of Pennsylvania, a long way from the kingdom of Mali.

Another Hall of Famer is Johnny 3 Legs, introduced in 1995 and contract-brewed briefly by Stroh. This fabulously blatant reference -- to a man whose penis is so large that it looks like a third leg -- was sent into the marketplace with a cover story regarding a three-legged rooster. Well, what can you say?

You can read the full essay here.

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October 01, 2006

Design Beck's new CD cover

cover materials for Beck's new CD, The Information

Beck's new CD, The Information, hits the shelves today, and this may be one new release where you want the actual physical artifact, not just the iTunes download(*). That way, you can make your own CD cover. The CD comes with a set of stickers and a sheet of grid paper, letting you create your own one-of-a-kind cover art. You can also upload your designs to one of Beck's websites for a chance to have your design used as the static image for later press runs of the CD.

Dmitri Siegel has a great article on the CD cover, and where it fits in the sweep of modern art, on Design Observer.

(*) Of course, if you're righteously angry about Apple's DRM, you've already passed on iTunes purchases.


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September 21, 2006

Time lapse of Second Life's hotel

image from the time lapse film of the construction of the Starwood Hotel in Second Life

In the last couple of months there's been a real explosion of commercial promotion and advertising in the online world Second Life... things like American Apparel opening a store in Second Life and Toyota seeding Second Life with virtual Scion automobiles.

Now add the new upscale Aloft Hotel chain to that list. Aloft is building a full size model of one of their hotels in Second Life, and they've just posted a cool time-lapse movie of the hotel's construction. It's interesting to see the similarities and differences of virtual vs. real construction (even in a virtual world ya gotta grade the land first, but you don't have to worry about walls collapsing, so it's OK to build the walls of a five story building without any trusses or bracing, something that would be impossible in the physical world).

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September 02, 2006

Automats are back!

photo of Bamn automat

The rise and fall of automats almost exactly spans the 20th century...the first one opening in Philadelphia in 1902, the final one closing in 1991.

But now the automat is back! The Bamn automat just opened up in downtown Manhattan. The menu is part traditional automat fare (hamburgers, mac & cheese) and part asian (pork buns; Japanese-seasoned beef sliders). The food is housed inside glass-fronted vending machines, just like the old time automats.


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September 01, 2006

"Honk if Pluto is still a planet." recap

Honk if Pluto is still a planet bumper sticker

Well, it's been an interesting seven days, being a minor internet meme. A number of folks have asked me for a recap:

Last Thursday, 6 AM (PT):
The International Astronomical Union announces that Pluto is no longer a planet.

Last Thursday, 7 AM:
I design a bumper sticker and make it available on cafepress.

Last Thursday, 11 AM:
BoingBoing puts the bumper sticker on their blog. Zillions of people see it.

Last Thursday, 2 PM:
The BBC runs a story of the Pluto controversy, mentioning the bumper sticker.

Last Friday morning:
I get interviewed by the Associated Press. They also send a photographer named Nick Ut to take some photos of me. It's only after he leaves that a friend points out some of the other photos Nick Ut has taken.

Last weekend:
The AP story shows up in hundreds of newspapers.

Tuesday morning:
I get interviewed by Europe 1 in France.

Things seem to have died down. Checking the sales figures, I see that several hundred bumper stickers have been purchased, so I get to send a nice little chunk of change to The Planetary Society. Woo Hoo!

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August 21, 2006

David Brent visits Microsoft

still from Ricky Gervais Microsoft UK video

If you're like many web-savvy people, you loathe Microsoft but love Ricky Gervais in The Office. If that's you, then prepare for a lumbering bus full o' conflicting emotions as you watch these hilarious videos commissioned by Microsoft UK. Gervais (in his brilliant role as David Brent, the world's worst business executive) visits Microsoft UK to help the company work on their core values. The Office's co-writer/co-director Stephen Merchant is wonderful as the increasingly frustrated Microsoft drone assigned to shepard Brent around. Enjoy!

(Thanks bedazzled)

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August 05, 2006

Keep your stinking IP laws off my mata olho!

Brazil has a wonderful rep for not just rolling over and accepting the increasingly draconian intellectual property treaties being foisted on developing nations by the first world.(*) Their latest move comes in response to a growing trend. It goes like this:

1) Brazilians spend millennia eating some great tasting Brazilian plant that's also great for your health.
2) Foreign company learns about the plant.
3) Foreign company trademarks the plant name and starts selling the plant (turned into a health drink, or shampoo, or anti-aging cream, or brain-tonic pills, or God knows what else).
4) Some poor guy in Brazil opens up a local business cooking up the plant for the locals. (He uses the plant name in his company's name). He starts a little export business selling his product.
5) He gets the pants sued off of him because some company 5,000 miles away trademarked the plant name. Never mind the fact that folks in Brazil have been calling the plant by that name forever.
6) Repeat over and over.

Brazil has now come up with a wonderfully pragmatic way to break this cycle. They've compiled a list (here's a pdf) of more than 5,000 Portuguese language names of plants, seeds, roots, etc. They've shipped the list off to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and trademark offices around the world. The idea is that if all of these organizations and countries know a term is already in use they will be less likely to grant some company a trademark on it. Clever!

There's an article about all of this on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

(*) I was particularly proud of Brazil last year when they told US drug companies that they had no intention of paying overly high prices for AIDS drugs while many Brazilians were dying of the disease. They gave the drug companies a choice... offer us lower cost (Brazil translation: fairer cost) AIDS drugs or we'll break your patents and just make our own generic versions.

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July 21, 2006

New McDonalds billboard hits Chicago

McDonalds billboard in Chicago

McDonalds has rolled out a clever new billboard in Chicago, turning the billboard into a giant sundial, and the McDonalds' logo into the sundial's gnomon, casting its shadow onto the recommended food for that hour.

There's an article about it in Chicago Business magazine, and on the BILLBOARDROOM blog.

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July 16, 2006

Coming soon: the answer to too much choice

photo of ranqueen shelves

Face it, we all feel assaulted at times by Too Much Choice... a typical supermarket in the U.S. has 100 types of soup, more than 30 types of toothpaste... is that huge a selection really helpful? Or just confusing?

If you'd like your universe of choices reduced for you, take heart, help is on the way from Japan. Ranking Ranqueen (here's their website, in Japanese) is a Tokyo retain chain that sells the top listed items in a wide variety of categories. Instead of 100 types of soup, just the top three. Instead of 30 types of toothpaste, just the top five. The rankings are updated based on sales at the big Tokyo department stores and via other sales research.

This is the other side of Chris Anderson's Long Tail... actively removing any niche markets. If your favorite soup falls to number four in soup popularity...poof!...it's gone from their shelves. (But then of course having a store that refuses to deal in niche markets is itself a niche market...no wonder Tokyo remains ground zero when it comes to cultural dissonance).

The folks at Springwise spotted this. They say there are no stores like this in the U.S. yet, but the market is wide open for them. They also have a great newsletter.

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