Story A.I.-Yi-Yi Redux

In last week’s Around the Web, we gave an assignment to Story A.I., an artificial intelligence-based web app that says it can write a story given a couple of sentences to start with. We gave it the abstract from a recent wide-format story and sent it off to do its thing. Alas, it had flaked, not having returned a finished story in the 30 minutes to two hours promised—or even by our publication deadline.

However, over the weekend, we got a note from Story A.I. saying that it had completed its assignment. It even picked out a headline and an editorial image:

The A.I. continued:

3. The future of product differentiation
One of the key concepts of digital design is the idea of distinctively different products. A more obvious example might be the relationship between an email service provider and a consumer's email provider. The consumer has three options at this point:
Email provider : The consumer may have a variety of email service providers, including Microsoft, Hotmail, AOL, etc… A consumer can chose the provider that most closely matches her personal goals. For example, a consumer might choose to receive e-mails from the email provider that provides the most features to her, and the least amount of data to keep track of.
: The consumer may have a variety of email service providers, including Microsoft, Hotmail, AOL, etc… A consumer can chose the provider that most closely matches her personal goals. For example, a consumer might choose to receive e-mails from the email provider that provides the most features to her, and the least amount of data to keep track of. Consumer-branded email : The recipient may decide with preference which email provider to use for email marketing purposes.
Email marketing (email list): The consumer may choose to receive notifications when she has an email from a particular provider, or not.
4. What do consumers really care about?
Once you understand the types of design decisions consumers want from online stores and online messaging services, it becomes pretty easy to identify which ones are most important.
5. Why does it matter?
Consumer focus is one of the key drivers of sales and retention on consumer products. Consumers can make decisions about purchasing what they can afford or what products they can afford to buy. A good place to start by understanding consumer preference is through their buying decisions. Here are some examples of some customer preferences:
Cost: If the consumer cannot afford a given product (e.g. the high-end iPhone), that product becomes a budget item.
If the consumer cannot afford a given product (e.g. the high-end iPhone), that product becomes a budget item. Price: If the consumer can afford a product, it becomes a "value purchase" and becomes a higher-end item.
If the consumer can afford a product, it becomes a "value purchase" and becomes a higher-end item. Time spent: If the consumer cannot afford a

And then it just ended abruptly.

OK, well, what Story A.I. submitted had nothing to do with sign and display graphics, main point numbering begins at 3, colons are used indiscriminately, and the grammar is rather garbled in places. (Still, we suspect our copy editor would prefer Story A.I. to our normal wide-format editor.)

Story A.I. is not likely to be taking anyone’s job anytime soon—although we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it, especially if it gets better with wide-format graphics.  

Under Pressure

Maybe we should have had Story A.I. use “The World’s Most Dangerous Writing App.” Designed for people who write their best under pressure, “if you stop typing before 5 minutes is up, your work starts to fade, and if you don't start again immediately, it disappears completely.” Kind of like Microsoft Word, actually.

Hamming It Up

Fast Food

Our colleague John Zarwan sent us a link to a Wall Street Journal story about how digital signage is making fast food a bit too fast:

On a lunch break from his sales job at a construction company in Illinois, Steve Kovacs walked into McDonald’s , where he saw a picture of a chicken sandwich on the digital menu. When his time to order came, he pointed at it. But the sign had flipped to a new screen and he was now pointing at a burger.
Mr. Kovacs, 43 years old, couldn’t remember the name of what he wanted, and with 20 customers behind him, he just got the burger. When he finished eating it, the McDonald’s menu flashed back to the chicken. Mr. Kovacs bolted up and ordered a Hot ’n Spicy McChicken.
“I got my Quarter Pounder, but I got excited for that chicken thing,” said Mr. Kovacs.

And as a Houston Popeye’s recently discovered, you don’t want to get between someone and their chicken sandwich.


Editor & Publisher & Broadcaster & Podcaster

The venerable “bible of the newspaper industry”—Editor & Publisherhas just been sold to digital media veteran Michael Blinder who says he plans to expand the magazine’s focus. “Blinder's goal is to enlarge Editor & Publisher's focus to also include television news like CNN and the crop of digital news outlets including Vice that have emerged to take on traditional media.” He plans to keep the print edition, but add more multimedia elements, such as podcasts.

And They’d Be Wrong

Sneakers: Lace Thyself!

Ever wondered how to free yourself from the arduous task of tightening your shoelaces? Bow down no more to the tyranny of your sneakers, thanks to Nike, which has developed “self-lacing” sneaker technology called FitAdapt. You can even talk to your shoes: “The FitAdapt technology now also works with Siri Shortcuts so users can create custom voice commands to activate the sneakers by simply yelling at them.” Hmm... If someone had a mind to they could really troll someone in a race by yelling tightening or loosening commands at competitors’ shoes.

Bulb: Dim Thyself!

Have you ever wished you could control the lighting of complete strangers? Well, thanks to “smart” light bulbs, you apparently can! Says Boing Boing:

Americablog editor John Aravosis discovered that the Philips Hue lightbulbs he returned to Amazon were now on in someone else's house -- but still under his control.
He discovered this because the new owner, "Amanda Jean," initialized the bulbs, and then his Hue app started to send him a stream of updates from Amanda Jean's house, along with the address for her IoT hub and her email address.


Do you use the application Slack to manage (often remote) inter-office communications? (If you’re not familiar with Slack, it’s a very helpful and useful tool but at times it can be like the digital version of people coming into your office and never leaving.) Anyway, despite its usefulness, it isn’t often good for one’s emotional health and that “clacking” message alert noise can be rather like Captain Hook and the crocodile. But the New York Times has some useful tips for keeping Slack from making you hide under the desk and weep.

Fair Point

After Bathing at Baxter’s

We’ve mentioned this before, but “forest bathing” is an actual thing, although the term itself is a bit of a misnomer caused by an inexact translation of the Japanese phrase Shinrin-Yoku, which does translate as “forest bathing” or, more correctly, “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Ultimately, it is about emphasizing the importance of slowing down to connect with nature. The Daily Beast has a primer on the practice, which is apparently becoming more popular, especially in Colorado. There is even an Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, the National Park Service has started promoting parks as health resources, and there are even forest therapy guides that can help you get the most out of your forest bathing experience. (Just make sure you check yourself for ticks afterward, especially if you are forest bathing in the Northeast.)

Lost and Found in IKEA

Have you ever gotten lost in an IKEA store? They can be so large and labyrinthine that it’s kind of easy. But for some people, that’s exactly the point, and playing “hide and seek” in IKEA stores is apparently now a thing. And recently in Glasgow, the police had to get involved after thousands of people apparently signed up on Facebook for IKEA Hide and Seek on an grand scale. (Players have been known to hide in refrigerators, under beds, in the big blue shopping bags, and heaven knows where else.) It turned out that not that many actually showed up—although a few groups of teens who did not look like they were there to buy anything were dissuaded from hiding and/or seeking.

The IKEA idea began in Belgium in 2014, spread throughout Europe, and was even initially supported by the company itself, but had to be shut down when the games became too unwieldy (“In Holland an astonishing 32,000 Facebook users signed up for a game in Eindhoven, as well as 19,000 in Amsterdam and 12,000 in Utrecht”). 

The Age of Plastic

The Buggles had named their 1979 album The Age of Plastic and it turns out that, thanks to a new study, “Age of Plastic” could very well be a geological era. Says Gizmodo:

Published in Science Advances Wednesday, the study looks at a single sediment core that dates back to 1834. However, plastics didn’t really enter the environment until after World War II in 1945 because that’s when its production really ramped up. And that’s all clear in the sediment core, which the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Cal-Echoes research cruise extracted back in 2010. Interestingly enough, the increase in plastics correlates with worldwide plastic production and the population growth along the Southern California coast that feeds the watershed where the team collected this sample.
So what does this all mean? Plastics are taking over. And this “plastic footprint,” as study author Jennifer Brandon, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography put it, is so stark that the authors suggest it could serve as a geological proxy in the sedimentary record. Scientists have dubbed the current period we’re living in the Great Acceleration to mark our exploding industrial activity and its impact on the planet. Typically, geologists rely on radioisotopes to flag the beginning and ends of eras, but the team behind this study thinks plastics can be the marker for when this new type of geological began.
What’s more, the ocean sediment tells a clear story of the world’s growing reliance on plastic. Between 1945 and 2009, the rate of plastic deposition doubled every 15 years on average. And the plastics found in the core aren’t just the fragments people typically think of when they hear the word microplastics. Most of the plastics—67.5 percent—found in the post-1945 core are fibers. Yes, you read right: fibers from clothes. And oddly enough, most of the fibers they found were white.




Do you use Amazon’s Next-Day Delivery? If so, you may want to read this long Buzzfeed feature on the convoluted, chaotic, and carnage-riven system that drives it.

When Irish Tongues Are Smiling

Here’s a resource worth checking out. The online dictionary of Medieval Irish has just been recently updated after researchers from Cambridge and Queen's University Belfast identified and defined 500 previously lost Irish words.

If you were choosing where to live in medieval Ireland you might insist on somewhere ogach which meant 'eggy' or 'abounding in eggs', but in reference to a particularly fertile region. By contrast, you would never want to hear your cook complaining brachaid, 'it oozes pus'. And if you were too boisterous at the dining table, you might be accused of briscugad (making something easily broken).

And some words were adapted to modern Irish.

One of these is rímaire, which is used as the modern Irish word for computer (in its later form ríomhaire).
Professor Ní Mhaonaigh explains: "In the medieval period, rímaire referred not to a machine but to a person engaged in the medieval science of computistics who performed various kinds of calculations concerning time and date, most importantly the date of Easter. So it's a word with a long pedigree whose meaning was adapted and applied to a modern invention."


This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

September 2

1752: Great Britain, along with its overseas possessions, adopts the Gregorian calendar.

1963: The CBS Evening News becomes U.S. network television's first half-hour weeknight news broadcast, when the show is lengthened from 15 to 30 minutes.

September 3

1802: William Wordsworth composes the sonnet “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.”

1967: Dagen H in Sweden: Traffic changes from driving on the left to driving on the right overnight.

September 4

1888: George Eastman registers the trademark “Kodak” and receives a patent for his camera that uses roll film.

1908: American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet Richard Wright born.

1951: The first live transcontinental television broadcast takes place in San Francisco, from the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference.

1972: The Price Is Right premieres on CBS. As of 2019, it is the longest running game show on American television.

1998: Google is founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two students at Stanford University.

September 5

1977: NASA launches the Voyager 1 pacecraft. Voyager 1 (like the other voyager probes) contained what was called the “Golden Record,” a gold-plated audio-visual disc that contains photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, scientific information, spoken greetings from people such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States, a medley of "Sounds of Earth" (the sounds of whales, a baby crying, and waves breaking on a shore, in case aliens are into New Age music), and a collection of musical works by Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Valya Balkanska. In 2013, Voyager 1 became the first manmade object to leave the Solar System.

1929: American comedian and actor Bob Newhart born, who did more for the telephone than Alexander Graham Bell.

1945 (not the Year of the Cat): Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist Al Stewart born.

1946: Tanzanian-English singer-songwriter and producer Freddie Mercury born.

September 6

1642: England's Parliament bans public stage-plays.

1928: American novelist and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) born.

1943: English singer-songwriter and bass player Roger Waters born.

September 7

1911: French poet Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.

1912: American engineer and businessman and co-founder of Hewlett-Packard David Packard born.

1927: The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Farnsworth.

September 8

1504: Michelangelo’s David is unveiled in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

1930: 3M begins marketing Scotch transparent tape. The idea seemed to stick.

1966: Star Trek premieres.

1971: In Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is inaugurated, with the opening feature being the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass.