Unlocking the secret to perfect wok-tossed fried rice

Wok tossing has long been suspected of causing the high shoulder injury rate among Chinese chefs.

Fried rice is a classic dish in pretty much every Chinese restaurant, and the strenuous process of tossing the rice in a wok over high heat is key to producing the perfect final product. There’s always chemistry involved in cooking, but there’s also a fair amount of physics. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a model for the kinematics of wok-tossing to explain how it produces fried rice that is nicely browned but not burnt. They described their work in a recent paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface.

This work hails from David Hu’s lab at Georgia Tech, known for investigating such diverse phenomena as the collective behavior of fire ants, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, the unique properties of cat tongues, and animal bodily functions like urination and defecation—including a 2019 Ig Nobel Prize-winning study on why wombats produce cubed poo. Hu and his graduate student, Hungtang Ko—also a co-author on a 2019 paper on the physics of how fire ants band together to build rafts—discovered they shared a common interest in the physics of cooking, particularly Chinese stir-fry.

Hu and Ko chose to focus their investigation on fried rice (or “scattered golden rice”), a classic dish dating back some 1,500 years. According to the authors, tossing the ingredients in the wok while stir-frying ensures that the dish is browned but not burned. Something about this cooking process creates the so-called “Maillard reaction”: the chemical interaction of amino acids and carbohydrates subjected to high heat that is responsible for the browning of meats, for instance.

But woks are heavy, and the constant tossing can take its toll on Chinese chefs, some 64 percent of whom report chronic shoulder pain, among other ailments. Hu and Ko thought that a better understanding of the underlying kinematics of the process might one day lead to fewer wok-related injuries for chefs.

In the summers of 2018 and 2019, Ko and Hu filmed five chefs from stir-fry restaurants in Taiwan and China cooking fried rice and then extracted frequency data from that footage. (They had to explain to patrons that the recording was for science and that they were not making a television show.) It typically takes about two minutes to prepare the dish, including sporadic wok-tossing—some 276 tossing cycles in all, each lasting about one-third of a second.

Ko and Hu presented preliminary results of their experiments at a 2018 meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, publishing the complete analysis in this latest paper. They were able to model the wok’s motion with just two variables, akin to a two-link pendulum, since chefs typically don’t lift the wok off the stove, maintaining “a single sliding point of contact,” they wrote. Their model predicted the trajectory of the rice based on projectile motion, using three metrics: the proportion of the rice being tossed, how high it was tossed, and its angular displacement.

The authors found two distinct stages of wok-tossing: pushing the wok forward and rotating it clockwise to catch rice as it falls; and pulling the wok back while rotating it counter-clockwise to toss the rice. Essentially, the wok executes two independent motions: side to side, and a see-sawing motion where the left end moves in a clockwise circle and the right moves counterclockwise. “The key is using the stove rim as the fulcrum of the seesaw motion,” the authors wrote. Also key: the two motions share the same frequency but are slightly out of phase.

Hu compared the effect to “flipping pancakes or juggling with rice.” The trick is to ensure that the rice constantly leaves the wok, allowing it to cool a little, since the wok temperature can reach up to 1,200 degrees Celsius. That produces fried rice that is perfectly browned but not burned.

Based on their analysis, Hu and Ko recommend that chefs increase both the frequency of motion when tossing fried rice in a wok and the “phase lag” between the two distinct motions. This “may enable rice to jump further, and promote cooling and mixing.”

The mathematical model Hu and Ko developed isn’t just a fun curiosity; it should also prove useful for industrial robotic designs. One goal for the authors is to develop a wearable exoskeleton or similar device to reduce the rate of shoulder injury among Chinese chefs. But there has been interest in automating cooking since the 1950s to perform such basic functions as cutting, boiling, frying, and pancake flipping—the latter task usually relying on reinforcement learning algorithms.

There have also been attempts to automate stir-frying fried rice in large batches, with limited success. Prior robotic designs have included a rotating drum to mix ingredients, and a see-sawing wok to flip ingredients, augmented with an automated spatula. These could mix ingredients via rotation or shaking but could not toss the rice and, thus, could not produce the ideal carbonated grains. “If there was an automated way of doing this, it could be very useful [for chefs],” said Hu.

What it’s hot:

 

 

TV Ads in the age of Covid-19: behind the curve?

Regardless of how you feel about social distancing, our feelings about sharing open spaces with strangers has changed. In one short week, we have been retrained on how to interact with the rest of society. For those who aren’t used to staying as far away from other people as possible, it must be tough.

For this reason, it is very strange to see tv commercials or tv shows where people are not practicing social distancing guidelines. It’s triggering to see a tv ad where people are hanging out at a restaurant or attending a sporting event without kinda freaking out.

 
Why It’s Hot

All of these ads were produced months before we had even heard of the phrase “social distancing.” It will be interesting to see how this will impact marketing and advertising in the coming months.

 

How to stop facemask hoarding


Image result for taiwan flag face masks
Image result for taiwan flag face masks
Taiwan came up with a unique alternative to fend off Chinese buyers from purchasing the face masks produced in its country for protecting themselves against the deadly coronavirus.

It printed its national flag on the facemask to ensure so that no Chinese national buys it or even steals it in case of dire need, reports said.

As the number of infections and confirmed positive cases soar in China, the Chinese purchase of the face masks rapidly began to deplete the global supply.

Why its hot?
A clever (but also cruel) way to not just stop hoarding but also test the loyalty of mainland China.

Water ATM’s in Rural India

How Piramal Sarvajal is using IoT to tackle safe drinking water issue for rural India

“Water is wealth; water is life. Without water, life would not endure, and access to freshwater and sanitation is a basic fundamental right of humans.”

Having said that, the availability of freshwater is still a significant challenge in India, especially in rural areas. According to reports, 25 million people in India lack access to safe drinking water, and rural Indian women waste 700 hours annually collecting water. It is also estimated that by the year 2025, almost more than half of the urban population of India will live in water-stressed areas as this precious commodity is becoming scarce rapidly.

In this context, Piramal Sarvajal is committed to leveraging innovative technology to create easy access to safe drinking water in rural areas. Seeded by the Piramal Foundation in 2008, Sarvajal has been working in the water space to provide clean drinking water in the far-flung rural regions of India.

Even today, three-quarters of India still drink unfiltered water, which, in turn, leads to diarrheal deaths and permanent fluorosis. To change this, Sarvajal founder Anand Shah created a program to achieve low-cost scalable solutions serving “safe water for all.”

Why it’s Hot: (In case you’re not sure if you want to read the loooong case study.) This is a really innovative convergence of technology, data and business model – aligned to solve a pervasive public health challenge, which negatively impacts the lives of millions of people every day. Interesting perspective, as we collectively consider ways in which clients might respond to the current global public health challenge.

A Mission To Provide ‘Water For All’

Water scarcity has been a global issue; however, Piramal Sarvajal believed that the problem is multidimensional, and therefore the solutions had to be locally suited. Additionally, the voluminous nature of water, coupled with its vulnerability to contamination demanded a localised and efficient purification-cum-distribution system. While many well-intentioned NGOs have tried to implement charity-based water delivery solutions, these ventures have not proven financially sustainable over time. And therefore, the need of the hour was to apply business thinking to solve public service delivery problems.

In recent years, decentralised solutions for community-level drinking water installations have achieved significant success in creating safe water access, even in remote rural areas. Serving large enough numbers at affordable prices leads to financial sustainability while creating a local entrepreneurial ecosystem. A market-based, pay-per-use model aims to democratise drinking water access and achieve operational break-even by selling drinking water to the community at affordable prices. Piramal Sarvajal has been at the forefront of developing technologies and business practices in the safe drinking water sector that are designed to ensure sustainable solutions in both rural and urban deployment conditions. Sarvajal created a business model that operates at community levels to provide decentralised drinking water solutions to underserved communities.

Challenges

During its inception, Piramal Sarvajal had their first version of its purification unit, which had no governance-based technology involved, and all the operations were done manually. Since the initiative was bound to be a multi-location affair, distributed operations posed a severe challenge to efficiently and cost-effectively managing the project. Besides, generating sufficient demand meant breaking existing taboos around buying water by educating consumers about water-health linkages was also a challenge. Sarvajal’s team, therefore, innovated a solution that could be customised for the water contamination profile of any location with pioneering remote monitoring technology. It also invested in community awareness activities while tapping into local entrepreneurial drive and resources by adopting a franchise model.

The company used to charge to the franchisee, based on the volume of water purified by our unit. Although there was a mechanical flow meter installed in the unit that used to measure the volume of water purified by our unit, every month, a person had to go to the field to note down the reading from each unit. This process, therefore, used to take about two weeks to complete the round and collect the data. This manual reading process created a delay in the billing cycle. Additionally, they noticed some tampering with water meters at various locations, which indeed is a separate challenge altogether. To resolve these, Piramal Sarvajal explored applying cloud-based technology in order to create a smooth process by using sensors for the measurement of vital parameters like quantity, quality, pressure etc.

Water ATMs: Automated Water Dispensing Units

The company started its technological journey using the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) with sensors and Human Machine Interface (HMI), which were attached with the PLC. “PLC-based automation has helped us in automating the unit’s operation and in remotely managing and monitoring the purification unit from our centralised location,” said Anuj Sharma, the CEO of Piramal Sarvaja. “Due to the fast-paced changes in PLC technology, we needed to update our software frequently. This triggered the design of our own, micro-controller based, control unit.”

Being the first organisation in India to develop the Water ATM, Piramal Sarvajal, operated the project in collaboration with a local entrepreneur or the local panchayat and community-based organisations to create sustainable livelihood opportunities within the chosen community. These cloud-connected and solar-powered WaterATM dispenses purified water 24×7. Villagers were issued RFID cards for collecting water, and these cards have a pre-paid balance, which can be recharged periodically as per consumption pattern. The RFID card gave the consumer the convenience of taking water anytime, anywhere across connected ATMs in a given location of flexible litres.

The IoT enabled technology installed at the purification level, ensuring the quality of every drop dispensed and supported oversight management on a real-time basis, while remotely managing locations for better governance. “The dispensing solution via Water ATM not only helps us manage and monitor user-level data but also supports targeted subsidies and variable pricing to support equitable and sustainable solutions at the last mile,” said Sharma.

The adoption of IoT technology for remote monitoring of the units helped the company in bringing transparency in operations across every transaction and ensured governance of widespread locations for both the service provider and the donor. This technology also assisted in managing the pay per use model, which, in turn, helped the consumers to pay an affordable price for clean drinking water — paying only for the service.

Operating Models

The technology that the company deployed was the Internet of Things (IoT), which required GSM/GPRS network as it acts as a backbone for communication between device and server. And, Sarvajal’s devices communicate with their centralised server over GSM/GPRS (2G) network. And ensuring that every installed unit has the availability of proper signal strength at the desired location. “Sometimes, we have noticed that even though there is a proper signal strength available at the place, still there is a delay in data exchange, which was due to the network latency,” said Sharma. And, hence, the company considered other network options like NB-IoT, which works on LTE (4G); considering its availability in most of India. The company also considered other alternate non-standard options, where telecom network is still not available, but it is under feasibility study.

Piramal Sarvajal also has enabled a technology device called Soochak, which is a remote monitoring device designed to be mounted on a commercial-scale water purification plant, to capture minute-by-minute machine status. This process works on Piramal’s technology backend, which allows the company to bring affordable, safe drinking water to underserved communities sustainably. At the same time, the touch screen of the machine easily guides the local operators on the daily functioning of the plant in the local language.

The company aimed to deploy technology at every stage — for specific parameter measurement Piramal Sarvajal have used state of the art sensors. As part of their regular preventive maintenance, these sensors are calibrated periodically so that they provide accurate data. With the help of IoT, the company gets its data from all units installed in the field, and these data are stored in their server’s database system. Also, considering the received data is large in volume; it practically wasn’t possible to do analysis manually, hence, decided to apply data analytics that provided them with meaningful information from the available data. “This helped us to know how many units are working in normal condition and how many units require attention from our maintenance team,” said Sharma. “Our devices are intelligent enough to provide real-time alerts to our operations team for any attention needed by them. Our operations team immediately acts on alerts and attends the situation.”

Application & Benefits

Sarvajal’s proprietary technology played a vital role in providing a comprehensive solution for delivering low-cost drinking water at the last mile. The various components of the technology include — water purification plants, monitoring device, the water ATM, and Sarvajal’s enterprise management system.

Sarvajal’s purification model was agnostic of the method of filtration and was utilising purification technology as per the source water. The water was getting purified through a site-designed five-step filtration process including media filtration, micron filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) filtration and UV purification. The employed proprietary technology of Sarvajal helped them in monitoring and controlling the machine operations, the source water quality, product water quality, litres produced (both rate and total), the overall health of the machine, and the amount of effluent created in the process. This real-time online monitoring enabled the company to assure a greater uptime in machine usage.

Sarvajal’s Enterprise Management System is the information processing hub of the entire company’s network of distributed installations. The SEMs receives all data sent over the cellular network for the Soochaks and Water ATMs and serves as the conduit for all operational activities within the business, such as inventory management, maintenance tracking, accounting, and asset tracking.

Additionally, the water ATM devices were solar-powered, cloud-connected, and operated automatically, which was designed to dispense water at the swipe of an RFID card. The ATMs tracked every transaction that took place, which enabled a sophisticated market forecasting and proactive multi-unit management. It also enhanced the scale of impact and optimised net investment per installation. Consequently, the ATMs established water-price transparent markets and assured 24×7 access to safe drinking water. Sarvaj’s initiative also presented an option to provide direct-targeted subsidies through government-run programs. Currently, the company is serving more than 7.30 lakhs of people daily, directly from our 1765+ touchpoints in 20 states.

While there are many players in the water space, Sharma believes, “What sets us apart is our effort of conducting community engagement activities to improve impact to increase the off-take.” Also, “Soochak throws data about machine health, so all maintenance activities are planned. Service tickets are even generated to track and also study the data generated. Our database shares information on all machines functionality at any given point in time.”

Sharma further added, “Being a technology expert in the water sector, we also aim to help the government by demonstrating the use of technology, so that the government can monitor the water supply schemes very effectively.” Sarvajal has extended the application of this model for a water pipe model too. The company partnered with the central government-run Jal Shakti mission to create a pilot model of monitoring the IoT-based water tracking mechanism at villages of Gujarat, Assam and Bihar.

Shouting ‘maybe misinformation’ into a world of Corona

“Twitter broadened their definition of ‘harm’. ” when it comes to users Tweeting about the Corona virus.  Expanding to, “content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.”

They are cutting off these Tweets, as well as ones that may suggest a cure, origin, spread and protection.

  • “Coronavirus is not heat-resistant—walking outside is enough to disinfect you.”
  • “Use aromatherapy and essential oils to prevent COVID-19.”
  • “Drinking bleach and ingesting colloidal silver will cure COVID-19.”
  • “COVID-19 does not infect children because we haven’t seen any cases of children being sick.”
  • “Coronavirus is a fraud and not real—go out and patronize your local bar!!”
  • “The news about washing your hands is propaganda for soap companies, stop washing your hands.”
  • “Ignore news about COVID-19, it’s just an attempt to destroy capitalism by crashing the stock market.”
  • “The National Guard just announced that no more shipments of food will be arriving for 2 months—run to the grocery store ASAP and buy everything!”
  • “If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you do not have coronavirus.”
  • “If you have a wet cough, it’s not coronavirus—but a dry cough is.”
  • “You’ll feel like you’re drowning in snot if you have coronavirus—it’s not a normal runny nose.”
  • “People with dark skin are immune to COVID-19 due to melanin production.”
  • “Reading the Quran will make an individual immune to COVID-19.”
  • “Avoid businesses owned by Chinese people as they are more likely to have COVID-19.”

These Tweets when not substantiated are the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. They can also be seen as completely outlandish on their own but what if one

Why it’s hot:

Censorship that might have ripple effects, currently unseen.

D2C might not work for everything

https://marker.medium.com/why-all-the-warby-parker-clones-are-now-imploding-44bfcc70a00c

An illustration with different characters representing direct-to-consumer startups such as Casper, Harry’s, Away, Brandless.

This blog post analyzes the Direct-to-consumer market and how the trend that was started by Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club may not be replicable by others. Fitness brands, private label household goods, mattresses, luggage have all go to the D2C model, with lots of funding.

Why its hot:

Brands like Away and Casper have developed a solid following and popularity amongst their customers, but are their business models sustainable. In the blog, it states that how often do people buy a mattress or a suitcase? Once every few years? sometimes 5-10 years. Is their product like Warby Parker where they found a significant savings from the incumbents and margin expansion through direct distribution? Other D2C brands were also started in down economies and they bootstrapped their businesses.

Casper, Away, Brandless (failed), Outdoor Voices (recently fired CEO) have all been well funded by the venture community and they spend heavily on customer acquisition and branding through Google and Facebook, events, pop-up stores, flag ship retail, influencers, etc.

If these D2C brands cannot reduce their CAC and increase retention rates or broaden their category, could there be industry impact of reduced digital media spending that flows through the whole system?

Keep an eye out!

Indie performing artists embracing Twitch amidst widespread tour cancellations

Due to COVID-19, Twitch, the streaming site popular with gamers is beginning to have a new constituency: Musicians. “50% of millennial males in America use Twitch. If you want to reach millennial males (which odds are, you do) Twitch is a good place to do it.” But now that musicians are using the platform more, Twitch may draw in more than just the male/18-34 demo.

From The Verge:

Mark Rebillet is part of a fast-growing community of musicians who are migrating to digital platforms to perform “quaranstreams” during the pandemic. Many larger artists, like Charli XCX, John Legend, and Diplo are choosing Instagram, but indie artists are overwhelmingly flocking to Twitch.

There’s one likely reason: while Instagram is an easy option to reach lots of people en masse, Twitch offers an abundance of ways to make money. “It’s more financially focused,” says musician and longtime Twitch streamer Ducky. “It supports different tiers of subscriptions and donations. People can subscribe to a channel for free with their Amazon Prime account. Fans can tip in micro amounts with things like Cheers. Other platforms usually just pay out on ad revenue or number of plays.”

Will the interactivity of live-streamed performances be enough to draw a crowd comparable to what an artist might draw on tour? It might not matter, because musicians have multiple revenue streams that are compatible with the Twitch platform. The vibe of a live show will never be captured via Twitch, but live-streaming shows may be a bigger part of the future of music due to covid.

Why it’s hot:

Artists might end up making more money

1) Because they can now reach a worldwide audience all at once, and eschew the high costs of touring, including the cuts venues and ticket vendors take on ticket sales.

2) Because of the ease of “tipping” on Twitch, audiences may end up paying their favorite artists more than they would for a ticket to a concert.

Musicians streaming on Twitch may offer brands a new way-in to the platform.

Aside from going the gamer route, brands may want to get in front of viewers watching a concert in real time. What kind of interesting interactive activation could brands do that would not undermine the musicians credibility?

Source: The Verge

Social Platforms are Banning Covid Misinformation

Social platforms are taking a stand against Covid misinformation. Both individually and as a group of brands. Twitter statements below:

Some of misinformation that Twitter has removed:

  • “Coronavirus is not heat-resistant—walking outside is enough to disinfect you.”
  • “Use aromatherapy and essential oils to prevent COVID-19.”
  • “Drinking bleach and ingesting colloidal silver will cure COVID-19.”
  • “COVID-19 does not infect children because we haven’t seen any cases of children being sick.”
  • “Coronavirus is a fraud and not real—go out and patronize your local bar!!”
  • “The news about washing your hands is propaganda for soap companies, stop washing your hands.”
  • “Ignore news about COVID-19, it’s just an attempt to destroy capitalism by crashing the stock market.”
  • “The National Guard just announced that no more shipments of food will be arriving for 2 months—run to the grocery store ASAP and buy everything!”
  • “If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you do not have coronavirus.”
  • “If you have a wet cough, it’s not coronavirus—but a dry cough is.”
  • “You’ll feel like you’re drowning in snot if you have coronavirus—it’s not a normal runny nose.”
  • “People with dark skin are immune to COVID-19 due to melanin production.”
  • “Reading the Quran will make an individual immune to COVID-19.”
  • “Avoid businesses owned by Chinese people as they are more likely to have COVID-19.”

Here is a joint statement from the social platforms jointly:

Why it’s hot?

We’re living in an era of misinformation at the time where being able to rely on is mission critical. Facebook’s past mistakes with leaving up misinformation (as well as during the current election season) has reduced their credibility. Personal hypothesis: More are flocking to Twitter and Reddit to get information, giving these other platforms a boost right when everyone is spending a lot more time online.

Will Coronavirus Change the Materials We Build With?

When influenzas, bacteria like E. coli, superbugs like MRSA, or even coronaviruses land on most hard surfaces, they can live for up to four to five days. But when they land on copper, and copper alloys like brass, they begin to die within minutes and are undetectable within hours. “We’ve seen viruses just blow apart,” says Bill Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton. “They land on copper and it just degrades them.”

Copper is still widely used in power networks—the copper market is, in fact, growing because the material is such an effective conductor. But the material has been pushed out of many building applications by a wave of new materials from the 20th century. Plastics, tempered glass, aluminum, and stainless steel are the materials of modernity—used for everything from architecture to Apple products.  Brass door knobs and handrails went out of style as architects and designers opted for sleeker-looking (and often cheaper) materials.

With funding from the Copper Development Association (a copper industry trade group), Keevil, working in his lab with some of the most feared pathogens in the world, has demonstrated that not only does copper kill bacteria efficiently; it also kills viruses. (In 2015, he even demonstrated this phenomenon with a precursor to COVID-19, coronavirus 229E).

In 2015, researchers working on a Department of Defense grant compared infection rates at three hospitals, and found that when copper alloys were used in three hospitals, it reduced infection rates by 58%. A similar study was done in 2016 inside a pediatric intensive care unit, which charted a similarly impressive reduction in infection rate.

But what about expense? Copper is always more expensive than plastic or aluminum, and often a pricier alternative to steel.  But given that hospital-borne infections are costing the healthcare system as much as $45 billion a year—not to mention killing as many as 90,000 people—the copper upgrade cost is negligible by comparison.

As for the rest of the world’s buildings that haven’t been updated to rip out the old copper fixtures, Keevil has a piece of advice: “Don’t remove them, whatever you do. These are the best things you’ve got.”

Why its hot
Coronavirus is already drastically changing how the world works, how we get around, and how we function in our jobs. But it will be interesting to see some of the other ways it alters the world around us, including the materials we use to build with, ad how we can find ways, even resurrecting old ways, to combat emerging diseases like Coronavirus.

Socializing in the Age of Corona[virus]

Digital dance raves. Streaming soundbaths. Book readings by phone. Now we’ve gotta get creative.

Where once technology was thought to be the death knell of human social interaction, it is now bringing us together under quarantine. The housebound are nimbly pivoting to virtual social gatherings.

They’re holding birthday parties and bar mitzvahs over video chat, broadcasting D.J. sets and streaming concerts (some from the luxurious confines of celebrity homes), and establishing quarantine movie nights on Twitter for “virtual companionship.”

A lot of communal events are taking place on Zoom, a videoconferencing app now being used by many classrooms and businesses (thus transforming it into one of the few companies doing well on the stock market). But it’s not just Zoom.

There are, for example, a small but highly vocal number of people gathering in the digital plazas, pet stores and pizza shops of Club Penguin Online. There are happy hours being held on Google Hangout, and poker games taking place over FaceTime. There are flute meditation sessions on Instagram and thousands of people participating in dance raves that are broadcast on Twitch.

It’s a lot for the internet. On Monday, Discord, the chat app popular with gamers, announced that it would increase its capacity by 20 percent to keep up with demand; it crashed shortly thereafter.

Jeff Baena, a film director, loves organizing social activities; it was at one of his game nights, in fact, that he met his girlfriend, the actress Aubrey Plaza. The couple have been in self-quarantine since March 11, and were feeling extremely antsy.

“Our house is one of those hubs where people are always over and hanging out,” Mr. Baena, 42, said by phone this week. “It’s strange to not be able to do that. I was kind of jonesing.”

So he got people together virtually. At 9 p.m. on March 14, a dozen friends — including the actress Alia Shawkat, who said she left the set of a television series she was working on early, before it had been officially shut down because of the new coronavirus — joined a group chat for a few hours of Quiplash and other games by Jackbox, an internet game company.

In order for remote players to see the game screen, Mr. Baena joined FaceTime from two devices, with one camera aimed at his TV.

Of course, the pandemic loomed large over the course of the night. At one point, someone coughed and a chorus of concerned voices wondered who it was.

“It was me!” said Almitra Corey, 40, who is currently working as the production designer for the final season of the Netflix show “GLOW.” (Filming was paused, as for all other Netflix shows, last Friday.)

“I just smoked weed,” she said. “Relax.”

A Remote Rave for 5,000 Guests

In New York this past Sunday, the city’s hottest nightclub was a virtual day rave. Nine hours of electronic music were streamed from an empty warehouse in Brooklyn to nearly 5,000 guests from around the world, including some in Berlin and Seattle, all of whom were watching on Twitch.

The event, which showcased nine electronic musicians, was put together by Christine McCharen-Tran, a founder of Discwoman, a talent agency in Brooklyn and collective of femme and nonbinary D.J.’s and music producers.

“I texted all the D.J.’s that I know that need support right now,” Ms. McCharen-Tran, 31, said. After gatherings of more than 500 were banned in New York on March 13, she said, “I was seeing so many artists being affected directly.”

So last Friday, she reached out to a lighting designer friend named Michael Potvin, who provided a physical space and a domain name (harrisonplace.nyc). Ms. McCharen-Tran got to work building out the site and booking artists.

By the afternoon, harrisonplace.nyc was live and vibing.

“For all of the talk about tech distancing us, it felt very intimate and joyful,” said Jess Ramsey, 35, in a phone interview. Ms. Ramsey, who works on hardware and gaming partnerships at Spotify, projected the rave onto her living room ceiling.

“We’re the most stressed we’ve probably ever been, and there’s no place to go, but you can dance in your living room,” she said. “It was the first time we had danced in a week, and it felt really special.”

Strict safety and hygiene protocols were in place even in the empty warehouse. All D.J.’s wore latex gloves and had access to disinfectant wipes and soap. The suggested size of gatherings has shrunk daily and rapidly, from 500 people to 50, and most recently to 10. At the time, Ms. McCharen-Tran’s 10-person maximum was out of an abundance of caution; now it would be pushing the limit.

Many other bands are performing in empty concert halls for the digital masses. The metal band Code Orange performed a record-release concert with an elaborate multimedia production to an empty room, for example, streaming to more than 12,000 fans.

In order to help fans support the artists in real time, Ms. McCharen-Tran and other producers of these events display the Venmo user names of artists at the bottom of the screen during their sets.

A Google Hangout Happy Hour

Lauren Ashley Smith, a TV writer from St. Louis who lives in Los Angeles, turned to Google Hangout this past Saturday to host a digital happy hour with a few close friends. That turned into 57 close friends, and then, over 60 once her sisters invited friends of their own.

“I know it seems like I invited a lot of people,” Ms. Smith, 34, said, “but I did carefully curate the people that were invited.”

To fit the criteria, a guest had to be someone Ms. Smith felt “wouldn’t take it too seriously” and who was “more extroverted — or would be willing to talk to a bunch of strangers they didn’t know.”

She knew everybody was just home alone, bored or scared. So, she said, “I made a run of show.”

The activities include a game Ms. Smith invented (“in 30 seconds,” she said) called “Who’s That Girl?” She would hold up photos of celebrities (saved on her phone) to the laptop’s camera, and players earned points by being the first person to correctly type the subject’s first and last name in the chat section of the Hangout window.

The celebrities were “obscure, to some,” Ms. Smith said. (They included Lala Kent from “Vanderpump Rules,” the singer Keke Wyatt, Christine Brown from “Sister Wives” and Esther the Wonder Pig, whom Ms. Smith described as “a pig influencer on Instagram.”)

The winner received a prize of $50 on the cash-sharing app Venmo. It was ultimately donated to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, which provides services to currently and formerly homeless women.

After the hangout, Ms. Smith said she received “a lot of heartfelt messages” from participants thanking her for including them. She “absolutely” intends to do it again.

“It’s really easy,” she said. “Social distancing is for the greater good of everyone. And you can still make it really fun.”

Before the event, it struck her that she and her wife had yet to host a party at their new home. “But now I feel like we have.”
Conspiracy Theories on Club Penguin

There once was an online Disney media platform called Club Penguin, which was a kid-friendly social media hub where users could interact as animated penguins in a virtual world. It was formally discontinued in 2017.

But the internet being the internet, there are still multiple simulacra of Club Penguin around: unlicensed duplications hosted on independent servers, filled with the same population of late-born millennials and first wave Gen Z-ers that flocked to the Disney version by the hundreds of millions.

Last Friday, masses of users assembled in a popular fake iteration of the original pretend world — this one called Club Penguin Online — to share their anxieties, wishes and predictions for the uncertain future, and to ask everyone where they were from. Also, to keep frantically serving one another digital pizza.

There existed eerie similarities between the cartoon penguin world and humanity’s own, under quarantine. The sports stadium was devoid of chatting penguins. The skate park was nearly empty; ditto the dance club.

In other corners of the penguin universe, users delighted in that activity increasingly outlawed by public health officials: congregating in large groups.

Although conversations can be hard to follow on Club Penguin Online — a user’s typed message appears briefly above his or her representative penguin’s head wherever on the screen that penguin happens to be standing (or dancing), before disappearing forever — the pizza shop became, around midday, a kind of political salon.

One penguin asked another penguin that purported to be from Italy if, in real life, the grocery stores were out of pasta. Other flightless birds lamented the quality of their officials’ responses to the crisis.

A penguin in a chef’s hat approached and said, “They aren’t telling anyone anything,” before walking away to take another penguin’s pizza order.

Outside, in the plaza, a navy blue penguin was spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories. This penguin had presented itself as an expert on the novel coronavirus, imploring fellow penguins to pose to it any medical questions.

One penguin wondered how likely it was to become infected; the blue penguin replied confidently: “if ur under 60years old odds are 0,2.”

“Do you think someone created coronavirus?” a coral pink penguin said.

This was the opening the blue penguin had been waiting for. “YES,” it said. “Have u heard of 5g”? It went on to describe (in halting increments, because messages typed in Club Penguin Online have a limit of 64 characters) an online conspiracy theory that attributes virus symptoms to radiation caused by wireless internet.

The penguins in the plaza did not seem convinced.
Relaxing Gatherings

Online social gatherings are also taking meditative forms. Justine Stephens, 27, guided a live flute meditation on her Instagram account last weekend to help about 40 friends and viewers deal with stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

“Needed this and didn’t know it. Super anxious about the start of the week,” read one comment during the livestream. “Thank you for curing my Sunday scaries,” someone else added.

This past Sunday, Mikael Acatl, an energy worker and shaman who uses the pronoun “they,” held a healing session from their Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by plants, burning copal and bathed in golden-hour light.

And Josh Peck, 39, and Eliza Philpott, 31, who operate a retreat space in the Hudson Valley in New York, livestreamed a sound bath for about a hundred digital participants. They used two high-end microphones to funnel dual sources of audio to listeners simultaneously, which created the sensation of being in a three-dimensional space.

Other soothing practices included a reading by the writer Ashley C. Ford, of poems by Pablo Neruda. More than 100 people tuned in to the half-hour broadcast on YouTube.

There was also free “mom” advice dispensed by Mary Laura Philpott, an author in Nashville, who tweeted that she had “Big Mom Energy to spare. (Seriously, my teenagers are over it.)”

“I was like, Who needs the mom to tell you to drink your water, to wash your hands, that it’s going to be OK, to get off the internet?” Ms. Philpott said by phone. (She was surprised that the answer was: lots and lots of people.)

Gamers are getting into it, too. On Twitch, Nick Polom, a streamer with some 400,000 subscribers, took a break from streaming rounds of Apex Legends starting on March 11, to share more timely “Just Chatting” broadcasts.

Each is hours long, with names like “Doomsday cooking stream” (in which he livestreamed his stir fry, grocery rundown, and jokes about frozen chicken tenders) and “Girlfriend and Boyfriend stuck in quarantine!” (in which he livestreamed himself playing virtual reality games with his partner, for a remote audience of thousands).

As the novelist Sarah Schulman put it after a reading of hers was canceled in New York (and she offered her own individual readings by phone): “If all the institutional theaters are closed and all the competitive curated spaces are closed, we’re back to just entertaining each other.”

Online Twelve Step Meetings

Alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery frequently warn each other that isolation is a route to relapse; going to in-person Twelve Step meetings, sharing personal stories and talking with other addicts and alcoholics is a means of connection for many in recovery.

While long-distance Twelve Step recovery has existed since at least World War II, and moved to email and online chat and video with the rise of the internet, much of Twelve Step recovery still relies on in-person meeting.

With the health guidance for people to not congregate in large groups, those who rely on Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups have organized quickly. Many meeting chairs across the country are creating regular meetings on Zoom.

“Many of us have been saying in these online meetings that if we were still drinking and using drugs this would be the perfect environment to self-destruct — fear of the unknown, lack of support, isolation, financial insecurity,” said Nanea, who asked to be identified by only her first name in accordance with recovery guidelines.

She created her own version called the Online Recovery Group. In addition, the central offices of regional Twelve Step groups have jumped in to show what meetings are canceled and which are replaced by chat, video or email.

“We need to have a way to share our experience, strength and hope to new people struggling with addiction and alcoholism,” Nanea said. “I know a lot of people, not just people in recovery, are afraid and feeling isolated right now. I feel very fortunate to have an active community that knows how to support each other.”

On Sunday morning, the Redemption Church in Costa Mesa, Calif., set up its first livestream, in part to broadcast two infants’ dedication ceremonies.

Kristin Castillo, 30, a brand and marketing consultant, and her husband, Nate, 30, had originally planned to gather their family, friends and loving congregation (about 200 members strong) to witness and participate in the religious service, which would officially welcome their newborn son into the church. Afterward, there was to be a celebratory lunch.

“Obviously,” Ms. Castillo said, “that didn’t happen.”

Instead, Kristin and Nate’s in-person guest list was trimmed to one of each of their parents. When the ceremony reached the point where their infant’s “spiritual aunts and uncles” were meant to affirm their support, the family and friends that were asked to accept this duty participated remotely.

“They were texting us in real time: ‘Yes! Yes!’” Ms. Castillo said.

While she found the experience of being on camera “nerve-racking,” she described their baby, nearly 8 months old, as “surprisingly cooperative.”

“Watching a crazy little guy having a good time, hopefully that lifted someone’s spirits,” she said. “And, ironically, by stripping all of the social trappings away, it helped us focus more on the intent of the actual ceremony.

Why it’s hot: The internet has meant a lot of things to many people, it first brought many together far and wide, and then got a bum rap for making us feel like we’re closer to others when we’re actually just voyeurs into other people’s lives. But now, in the time of COVID-19, the internet and social media are enabling a more positive mandatory social distancing experience. From conference calls for work to concerts and raves, games nights and virtual happy hours, to religious celebrations, people are leveraging creative ways to use the internet in a time that could lead to excessive isolation and depression – way to go internet age!

Source: NYTimes

Live-streaming event helps Chinese cosmetics chain achieve 200% growth

Lin Qingxuan is a Chinese cosmetics company with more 300 retail stores and over 2,000 employees. When forced to close 40% of its stores during the coronavirus crisis, the company acted quickly to leverage WeChat and TaoBao (owned by Alibaba, it’s the world’s biggest e-commerce site) to engage with its customers virtually.

The store sent coupons to their customers and redeployed their 100+ beauty advisors from the closed stores into online influencers. On February 14th, the store launched a large-scale live stream shopping event and were able to engage with 60,000 customers live (they currently have 6 million followers). The sales from one shopping advisor in two hours equaled that of four retail stores.

From “online clubbing sessions” to streamed music festivals, many Chinese brands turned to live streaming during this crisis. It’ll be interesting to see how this industry will grow in the US.

 

 

INSIGHTS | Brands turn to livestreaming as China stays home

Interesting to note that despite having a pretty big following and social presence online, Sephora has canceled all its North American in-store classes and services as of 3/12.

Why it’s hot: This crisis will likely force brands to be braver and creative and, ultimately, expedite their digital transformation.

Social Distancing Late-Night Editions

Out of necessity and through personal good will,  late-night hosts are offering much-needed respite during this time. Taking to youtube sometimes with just their smartphones, they are performing without live in-studio announcers, without live bands. But the struggle is not only due to Covid-19. For months, late night hosts have been struggling with changing viewer habits especially in the younger co-hort who doesn’t watch SNL on Saturday nights.

The debate about whether late-night programs need to be viewed in their traditional time slot has been bubbling for months, particularly as the hosts, writers and producers have ramped up a slew of ancillary pieces of content: jokes posted all day on Twitter; traveling exhibits; Facebook video exchanges and more. Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” often posts its signature “Closer Look” commentary segments on Twitter several hours before the NBC program kicks off at 12:35 in the morning.

Why it’s hot: Having to test new ways to engage viewers could change the way late-night operates.

Source: https://variety.com/2020/tv/news/late-night-tv-coronavirus-jimmy-fallon-stephen-colbert-jimmy-kimmel-1203538149/

The Corona Running Boom?

It is clear that the Corona pandemic will radically change people’s behavior for the foreseeable future. What is less clear is precisely how behaviors will change and whether new habits will stick around after the pandemic is over (fingers crossed).

The New York Times reports that a running boom is happening–which makes sense given the number of people who can no longer exercise at gyms or indoors. But with potentially millions of people taking up running, how many of them will discover that they enjoy the habit and continue even when their gym membership is available again? The impact could be huge for years to come.

Running along the Hudson River.

Why it’s hot: What other activities are taking off? What activities are being displaced? What long-term impact could new habits have after the pandemic ends?

How LVMH Transitioned From Perfume to Hand Sanitizer in 72 Hours

LVMH is home to high-end fashion brands like Christian Dior and Givenchy, but right now they are providing critical supplies to those in need due to the coronavirus. When the French government called for brands to help produce key medical supplies, LVMH stepped up right away to turn one of their factories from manufacturing luxury perfume to hand sanitizer.

The LVMH hand sanitiser rushed out amid the pandemic

They created and packaged a solution at a Dior factory within 72 hours, and are on track to donate 12 tons of hand sanitizer to local French hospitals this week. The company plans to ramp up production at nearby Givency and Guerlien factories as well, saying in a statement that “LVMH will continue to honour this commitment as long as necessary.”

The reason LVMH was able to move so quickly on this is multi-faceted. Luckily, sanitizer only requires three main ingredients — purified water, ethanol and glycerine — all of which LVMH already had on hand. And cosmetics factory equipment isn’t far off from pharmaceutical equipment, so it could quickly be repurposed. For example, a metal tank normally used to distill scent was turned into a machine used to mix the ingredients. Moreover, the viscosity of sanitizer is quite similar to the soaps and moisturizers LVMH was already producing, so the same filling machines, plastic bottles and pump dispensers could all be reused.

Why It’s Hot

While some brands were obviously linked to COVID-19 from the outset, a luxury fashion brand did not have a clear role and could have just as easily stayed out of the conversation. LVMH halting their production and using their resources for good is a major shift that will help people stay safe now, and generate positive brand sentiment for the future.

Source

This Brand Turned Carbon-Negative Vodka into Hand Sanitizer

Air Co., a startup vodka brand, is one of the distilleries shifting their production from alcohol and to hand sanitizer – but what stands out is that Air Co.’s product is carbon-negative. Their mission is to make goods that do good, so they’ve created a carbon-negative vodka using captured CO2 instead of yeast to make alcohol is now using that captured CO2 to make a carbon-negative hand sanitizer.

“As of last week, we temporarily shifted our entire vodka production efforts to make a carbon-negative hand sanitizer,” the company wrote in a statement today. “Sanitizer is 70% ethanol, our technology’s main output, and we will produce as many bottles as we can during this crisis.” The company is donating the bottles it produces to the people that need it most.

This carbon-negative hand sanitizer is made from captured CO2

Other distilleries across the country are doing the same – the Old Fourth Distillery in Atlanta started producing hand sanitizer when local stores ran out, and it offered free bottles to the community, as did the Shine Distillery and Grill in Portland.

But what makes Air Co. stand out, is that it’s environmentally friendly. The company uses CO2 from nearby factories and runs it through a process that combines it with water to make alcohol, distilling the final product in equipment running on solar power.

Why It’s Hot:

A great example of how a brand totally quickly shifting its priorities to address pandemic especially a brand that isn’t in the cleaning or sanitizing market initially and in a way that is true to their brand values.

Source

During this pandemic, there is a market for Coronavirus themed products online

As Covid-19 turned into a global pandemic within the last few days, some sellers saw an opportunity to sell Coronavirus themed products on Amazon and Etsy. While some of these products are harmless, many made misleading claims about protecting from or curing Covid-19.

Quarantine Cup COVID-19 2020 image 0

Screenshot of product listings on Amazon

Why it’s hot: In the age of Covid-19, digitally-focused companies have an added responsibility to make sure that their customers aren’t falling for fake news or unproven product claims. Facebook is using AI to stop people from posting fake news, Twitter is asking people to remove fake Coronavirus-related tweets, and Amazon has removed one million products for false Coronavirus claims.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

This tool reveals if your local hospitals will have enough beds to treat coronavirus patients

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of “flattening the curve.” In that term, the “curve” refers to the number of people who will be infected at any given time. The higher any point on the curve, the more people infected at that point in time. A curve with a dramatic peak—that is, a steep rise and then fall in the number of cases over a short time—is something public health experts want to avoid.

The reason for this comes down to the ability of healthcare systems to cope. If everyone gets sick all at once, hospitals aren’t going to have the number of beds needed (and other tools) to care for them all. But if everyone takes their turn, so to speak, getting sick over a longer period of time, hospitals don’t need as many beds because the patients aren’t coming in all at once.

If a hospital has 1,000 beds and 5,000 coronavirus patients needing those beds, 4,000 of those patients aren’t going to get beds if everyone is sick during the same time period. But if those same 5,000 coronavirus patents get sick over a longer time frame, say interspaced over six months instead of two weeks, the hospital’s 1,000 beds could be enough for all 5,000 patients. This last example is what happens when you “flatten the curve.”

ProPublica built a tool to use data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute that shows whether local healthcare systems (made up of multiple hospitals) will have the needed beds should 20%, 40%, or 60% of the population become infected over time periods of 6, 12, or 18 months.

To use the tool, just enter your location in the search box and it will spit out a wealth of data revealing how many beds the local healthcare system has, as well as whether more beds are needed depending on how much the curve can be flattened. For example, by entering New York City as your local healthcare region, ProPublica’s tool says this:

In a moderate scenario where 40% of the population is infected over a 12-month period, hospitals in Manhattan, NY would receive an estimated 345,000 coronavirus patients. The influx of patients would require 11,500 beds over 12 months, which is 3.8 times times the number of available beds in that time period.

Why it’s hot: This leverages data to highlight how important social distancing is so we can flatten the curve as much as possible.

Source: FastCo

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Pandemic? Big Tech to the rescue!

This week Trump announced that 1,700 engineers at Google were working on a coronavirus test-finding tool that would be ready in a few days. This announcement caught Google completely off-guard, forcing the company to scramble to “build a website”. The result was rather disappointing.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China has been aggressively leveraging its technology infrastructure to monitor its people, in an effort to “flatten the curve”:

 

Why it’s hot:
Question for the community: What is the right way for brands, especially in technology, to respond to this crisis? What is the right balance between providing information and social engineering?

 

Have no fear, sports fans. The Marble Racing League is here

Where do sports fans turn when every major league across the country, and even the world is cancelling seasons? The Marble Racing League. What else would you expect?

The company’s now-viral marble races, which appeared on ESPN’s 2019 ‘The Ocho’ programming, started in 2006 as a YouTube channel called “Jelle’s Knikkers,” which is Dutch for Jelle’s Marbles.

  • Jelle’s Marble Racing has seen a 339% increase in YouTube views and >999% spike in subscribers in the last week as fans tune in for the Rojo Rollers and Savage Speeders.
  • A video of an old Marble League sand race went viral, racking up 33.3 million views, almost 781,000 likes and landing on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

The league plans to continue with its two weekly uploads through the end of the current Marbula One season. Once a champion is crowned, Jelle hopes to prepare the studio for the upcoming Marble League 2020 season, which will begin in May/June.

Why it’s hot:

With seasons cancelled and teams closing down facilities, it’ll be interesting to see how other outlets or organizations thrive. Or will nostalgia take over and people consume old school content? It’ll be interesting to see.

Chipotle Virtual Lunch

In line with social distancing, on March 16th, Chipotle Mexican Grill launched Chipotle Together sessions. For one week, each day at lunchtime (11am Pacific Time/2pm Eastern Standard Time) there will be an opportunity for people to connect with the brand via videoconferencing site Zoom.

Each session will include Chipotle-inspired presentations, celebrity appearances, Q&As and the chance to win free voucher codes for online delivery.

Every day, the restaurant chain will be posting a link to the virtual hangout session on its Twitter account, where up to 3,000 people may join the event.

The first session was hosted by reality star Colton Underwood, who appeared on The Bachelor in 2019.

In addition to its Chipotle Together sessions, the brand is offering its customers free deliveries on all orders over $10 via its app and website throughout March 2020. Chipotle is also responding to COVID-19 by introducing dedicated hygiene teams in its kitchens, specific ingredient stations for online orders, tamper-evident packaging, and an in-app delivery tracker to give customers step-by-step real-time updates.

Why it’s Hot:

People are looking to connect even more with the rise of social distancing. And, as restaurants struggle to stay afloat amidst coronavirus fears, this effort by Chipotle could help keep them top of mind with customers.

Source