Away is not an exotic location

I recently attended a presentation by Gary Hirshberg, founder and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm. He is a fascinating speaker. As someone who has a hard time remembering anything I’ve hear, I think it’s a testament to his captivating storytelling ability that I can recall much of what he spoke about. One thing he mentioned was the perception of waste in our country. For the most part we dispose of our trash in dumpsters or in trash receptacles that we move to the sidewalks once a week. From there a big truck comes to get it and it disappears to the exotic placed called “away.” Well, Hirshberg says, the reality is there is no such place as “away.” All that trash does wind up going somewhere (a lot of it to Pennsylvania incidentally).

With trash on my mind the past couple of weeks, I was particularly interested to happen across, a website that houses a collection of abandoned man-made creations. It seems that it’s not just trash that we forget about, and it’s not even just Americans who forget about them. Everything from amusement parks to cars from Antarctica to Namibia are featured on this site.


Abandoned old planes at La Paz - Jfk International (El Alto) Airport - Bolivia


This would never fly in the US


I have to give this ad execution points for being clever. Once just highway signs and boards on top of buildings, out of home advertising has become a wasteland of wild postings and “guerrilla” tactics that are generally not visually appealing or even relevant.

But this is good. An ad for a gym in The Netherlands displays the weight of people sitting on a bench in a bus shelter. New? Check. Interesting? Check. Kind of messed up? Definitely.

Sadly, this would never work in the U.S. where we struggle with our shame at being at the top of the global list of obese citizens alongside our need to be equally tolerant and forgiving of those who may not fit some sort of social ideal.

TGI Friday’s was right


I bring my lunch to work 3-4 days a week, typically soups or frozen meals. So I’m no stranger to the disconnect between the highly stylized picture on the package and the less appealing food that gets presented to me from the microwave. To really drive the point home, this website highlights the images from a German study of packaging images with the real-life food contained therein.

Interestingly, one place that really understands how this difference can have an effect on the eater is TGI Friday’s. When I worked there about 5 years ago we were told time and time again that part of the reason we had to slice strawberries and present hamburgers a certain way is that customers expect it to look like the food in the picture. It’s true. If the strawberry margarita came out without the strawberry garnish and the sugar rim, you can bet we would hear about it. “But that’s not how it looks in the picture!” they’d say. And so we’d have to take it back and make it look like the picture.


I recall how laborious it seemed that the parsley had to be sprinkled just so on the bruschetta pasta, but damn if it didn’t come out of the kitchen looking the exact same every time. At the time I found it incredibly annoying, but now I think Friday’s might have gained a bit of competitive advantage by paying attention to details like that.

Pop culture on the web

With millions of pages of information being added to the information superhighway everyday, it’s amazing that two people, or three or even a million have all seen the same thing. And yet it happens. Maybe we hear about these memes on Best Week Ever or The Soup, maybe our friend passes along a link, or maybe we somehow stumbled upon it ourselves. Whatever the case, it’s amazing that amid all the noise and garbage online, I can still mention Diet Coke and Mentos or Rickrolling and people know what I’m talking about.

Here is the video I can’t get enough of right now. I started watching one week ago and I still laugh every time I see it. As a testament to the weird stickiness of random things on the web, over the weekend the video got over 1.5 million hits (I swear it wasn’t all me).

Admittedly, I’m not the hippest when it comes to memes, which is why I found this list helpful if not exhaustive: Greg Rutter’s Definitive List of the 99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You’re a Loser or Old or Something.

Once again, Facebook is a petri dish of social behavior

Everyone who uses Facebook (ok, maybe everyone under the age of 30) is familiar with “Facebook Facts” – something you discover about a Facebook friend based on a status update or post. The most commonly exploited of these Facebook facts revolves around relationship status. When someone deletes the status from their profile, the feed on Facebook lists that as “Friend X is no longer single.” Typically that starts an avalanche of assumptions and doubts from people who may not be intimately familiar with Friend X’s actual dating successes or failures. And then along the way, it’s accepted as Facebook Fact.

Facebook has recently proven to be the litmus test for another of social psychology’s great wonders – the chain letter. I’m talking about the millions of people who were tagged in the recent “25 Things” craze. This involved a friend posting 25 random (but hopefully interesting and/or bizarre) facts about themself and then tagging 25 friends to do the same, thereby creating a pyramid scheme of useless personal trivia. In just a few days, dozens of my friends were caught up in the opportunity to list 25 random things about themselves that could, for once, really be considered Facebook facts.

This led me to discover several eye-opening details about some real good friends and some real good Facebook friends, including  “My favorite words are ‘Suave’ and ‘Myrmidon’” and “I once went 52 hours without sleeping or sitting” and “I day dream of playing capture the flag in the woods with a hundred people.”

Slate assistant editor Chris Wilson was also intrigued by the 25 Things and wrote this initial article and this follow-up, the latter of which compares the 25 Things contagion to the outbreak of infectious disease. Although not surprising, given the constant connectivity of people these days, it’s still interesting to see how quickly virtual information gets spread to such large numbers of people.

Microsoft surfaces in Vegas

Now that touch screens have hit the masses via cell phones, it looks like touch tables may be next. There has been buzz about the Microsoft Surface Tables for awhile, but it still seemed like something only tech geeks would talk about. Until now.


With Vegas hot spots like Mandalay Bay, the Palms and the Wynn stealing most of the spotlight, the Rio hotel and casino rarely makes it onto the buzz meter. But the Harrah’s owned property is making some smart decisions to earn cool points with hot new technology. According to this report on, Rio’s iBar features six of Microsoft’s Surface Tables that allow customers to use touch screen technology to do everything from watch YouTube videos, order drinks, play games alone or with friends, and even send pick-up lines and drinks to people at other tables.

Aside from custom content for Rio, several of the applications include branded content, like the bowling game using a lime to knock down empty Patron bottles.


This is a smart move for both Rio and Microsoft. Rio has a chance to gain some popularity by being a leader with this new technology and Microsoft has a much better chance of making waves in popular culture by allowing people to play with the product (why do you think Apple stores are always so crowded?).  The surface table interface clicks at the casino by delivering two critical benefits – interaction and customization:

  1. Interaction – It encourages people to further engage in an already social environment
  2. Customization – It offers highly personalized content through an entertaining and easy-to-use interface

Visualizing information

I’m analytical by nature but I have a hard time really processing information unless it’s represented visually. That’s why the graphics-heavy layout of USA Today and books like Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information are so fascinating.

One of my new favorite websites is FlowingData, which focuses exclusively on data visualization. At the end of the year they compiled the top 5 best visualization projects of 2008. In addition to being incredibly impressive projects, these projects are a good reminder that data can be both informative and really great to look at.

Not surprisingly, Radiohead made the shortlist with their “House of Cards” music video that used no cameras, only scanners and lasers. The video was just one of the band’s list of breakthrough, clutter-busting efforts over the past couple of years,  including offering a pay-what-you-want digital version of album “In Rainbows” that went on to top the charts in CD sales and a fan contest to create a music video.