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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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The New York Times has published a really cool interactive census map up on its site. It has a number of different ways to sort and visualize the data including population change, population density, various demographics, housing, etc.  It also gives you an opportunity to view all data by state and zoom in on your own zip code.  It’s a very nice and simple tool.

The New York Times does a great job of using the web to do more than republish the newspaper. The original content on the Times’ website is often as insightful or entertaining (sometimes more so) than the print version that waits for me at the end of the driveway in the morning. It also is full of nooks and crannies for exploration.

One of these spots is a series called One in 8 Million. It’s some fantastic story telling.  Essentially the series uses audio and photographs to peer into the life of ordinary New Yorkers. With titles like The Walker, The Rookie Detective, and The Bar Fighter each story offers something new and different.

As newspapers focus on profit and forget their mission, the Times does a great job of leveraging the web as a supplement of it’s daily print edition. It adds value instead of giving the store away for free.

We’re not gourmet anymore…or are we? A recent article in the New York Times serves as an interesting follow-up to a recent W5 blog post regarding the cancellation of Gourmet magazine. According to the NY Times and publishing company Conde Nast, we haven’t see the last of the lauded foodie mag.
An app may resurrect <i>Gourmet</i>.
Gourmet’s second chance at survival arrives neatly wrapped in a digital package as an iPad application called “Gourmet Live.” The app will be fully loaded with recycled cooking tips and recipes from Gourmet’s current archive while an occasional sprinkling of new content will be used to spice things up.

Interestingly, the app is not intended to serve as a digital form of the magazine, but as a new way for consumers to engage with the brand. Given Gourmet’s dedicated following and the widespread disappointment with the magazine’s cancellation, repackaging the magazine in the form of an app appears to be a brilliant move. Not only will the app reintroduce a trusted brand in an entirely new way, it will fill the void for dedicated readers who have yet to find a satisfactory substitute. In addition, the app well help the brand reach a younger, tech-savvy audience. The trick will be keeping the content fresh enough to attract new readers and familiar enough to satisfy older fans. With Gourmet’s culinary legendary expertise and reputation, balancing old tastes with new textures should be as easy as cooking “Easy Seafood Paella“.

I gave up reading books that can be found in the business/advertising/marketing section of the bookstore a while back. Most of the books you find in that section should have never been written in the first place: authors rehashing their previous work, self-help for the cubicle crowd, and whatever flavor of behavioral psychology is cool this month. I also posit that the original, interesting books in this section are likely to be rambling, 300 page tomes that would work better as 8 page articles in the New Yorker.

So, with few exceptions, the New York Times Business Bestseller List is dead to me. One of those exceptions is Rework, from the founders of 37signals (and the masterminds behind the best blog in the world, signal vs. noise).

Rework is essentially a collection of a hundred or so brief essays on how they do business. Anyone who has read their blog knows that they are feisty, irreverent, critical, and, in the end, brutally honest and usually right. The essays are no different. From advice on how to nurture office culture, to their thoughts on the futility of meeting and conference calls, they lay it all out there for the reader to do with as they please.

I have a strong suspicion that anyone who read this book and tried to follow their lead word for word would fail – miserably. Taken with a level head and grain of salt, however, the book is filled with provocations that will change the way they go about their life at work.

Here is a brief PDF excerpt from the book. Enjoy.

Two weekends ago, the New York Times ran an experiment that might sound familiar to market researchers out there.  Essentially they asked their readers to take a picture that represented the moment at 11am Sunday. The results are now available for browsing via the Times’ Lens blog. This experiment in self ethnography is interesting. I think the editors were disappointed that there were so many pictures of children and dogs (often in combination) uploaded. As you spin the globe and browse the images from all over the world, you get a sense of what the photographers’ priorities were.  As I browsed some of the photographs captured on the east coast of the US, I got a sense that family and spring were the dominant themes.

What’s really interesting is how, with minimal instruction, so many people uploaded similar images.

As a researcher and a cyclist, I was doubly interested in this Slate article about the absence of fixed-gear, or fixie, bicycles in China. (For those of you not familiar with the hipster fixie trend, here’s a quick primer.) While the article is ostensibly about this one product in this one country, it makes a larger point about trends and cultural context.

What is “cool” and “trendy” to one audience can be “weird” and “useless” to another. And this is not just true when comparing Brooklyn and Beijing. In research, subtle differences in demography can have huge effects on the perceptions of a product. Considering the cultural context in which we operate is always key.

Since everyone else seems to be talking about this spot, I figured I’d throw my two cents in. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s simple…Tiger stares into camera. Tiger’s dead father provides the voiceover. Cameras flash. Simple.

Most of the comments I’m seeing are critical, to say the least. Take this New York Times article:

“Did you learn anything?” Earl Woods asks. A valuable question, and one that his son has attempted to answer in his no-questions news conference in February; his brief interviews with ESPN and the Golf Channel last month; and his pre-Masters news conference on Monday.

But the answer to the father’s question appears to be that serial philandering and addiction rehab can be positioned as a commodity — and that you can roll it out in phases leading to the Nike amendment to the 12 steps: a TV commercial.

Personally, I like the spot. It’s an apology, a glimpse into Tiger’s conscience, and a return to the spotlight all rolled into one. When I read the criticism, I have to wonder what people expected. Short of keeping one of their marquee endorsers on the bench, or cutting him loose altogether, this was the only thing Nike could do.

Nike frames him as the fallen hero. Anything else would have been an outrage.