Good Reads: from a new media chapter, to telescopic contacts, to Doritos tacos
In this week's round-up of Good Reads includes why Jeff Bezos will be good for The Washington Post, how 'literally' became 'figuratively,' bionic contact lenses, real-life 'escape the room" games,' and Doritos tacos.
A new hope for legacy media?
Why did Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos buy The Washington Post with $250 million of his own money? That’s the question many have asked Henry Blodget, editor of The Business Insider, a prominent blog that has Mr. Bezos among its investors. Mr. Blodget does not claim to have any inside information on Bezos’s decision, but writes with the insight of having worked with him for many years.
According to Blodget, Bezos loves the long game. He invests in projects that interest him, not ones that will turn a quick profit. With a reported net worth of $25 billion, Bezos can afford to throw around a lot of cash – and he does. He poured $42 million into a massive atomic clock designed to keep time for 10,000 years. He funded a mission to find and recover Apollo 11’s engines from the bottom of the ocean. He regularly invests Amazon’s profits into new long-term ventures, such as the Kindle e-book reader or the company’s new TV and movie studio.
“So, anyone rooting for the Washington Post to transform into a successful digital business should be thrilled that Jeff Bezos is buying it,” he writes. “Anyone hoping the Washington Post will never change, meanwhile, should find some other status quo to cling to. The status quo at the Post is dying with or without Bezos.”
That’s a language pet peeve, literally
Bob Garfield hates when people misuse the word “literally.” On the Lexicon Valley podcast, he griped to cohost Mike Vuolo that people often use the word to mean its exact opposite – and this literally makes his brain explode.
Mr. Garfield assumed that this is a modern corruption of language, something that metastasized within his lifetime. But as Mr. Vuolo points out, people have used “literally” in a metaphorical or hyperbolic way for more than 150 years. Charles Dickens’s book “Nicholas Nickleby,” published in 1839, contains the line: “ ‘Lift him out,’ said Squeers, after he had literally feasted his eyes in silence upon the culprit.” Similar usages appear in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and James Joyce’s “Dubliners.”
The rest of the episode explores why language pet peeves bother people so – and why the joke may be on them.
Bionic eyewear offers superhero vision
Telescopic vision may now be within reach. An international team of researchers have designed a contact lens that can switch between normal sight and 2.8-power magnification. The US military’s research division funded the project, hoping to equip soldiers with superhuman sight. But the scientists behind the technology say in their journal article that it could also help people with vision problems. At this stage, the “lens doesn’t work on its own,” writes Amanda Kooser on CNET. “It needs to be paired with a modified set of 3D television glasses. A polarizing filter allows the switch between telescopic and regular vision.”
How will you escape?
In San Francisco, 11 people were trapped in a room for an hour, clawing at the walls for a way out. This wasn’t a crisis situation – it was a game. A Japanese company named Scrap has introduced one of America’s first “real escape games.” Volunteers lock themselves inside a 30-by-30-foot room littered with clues and logic puzzles. Participants must upend furniture, find hints, crack codes, and hunt for a way to escape before the timer runs out.
“The good news: The game is a blast,” writes Sara Breselor in Wired’s print magazine. “The bad news: It’s almost impossible. A whiteboard in the foyer outside our room displays the number of teams that have been locked inside (293) and the number that have escaped (7).”
Innovation at Taco Bell
As Taco Bell’s 50th anniversary approached, chief executive Greg Creed challenged his employees: Make the company seem young again by reinventing the crunchy taco. The result, writes Austin Carr in Fast Company’s print magazine, became a fast-food phenomenon.
Taco Bell’s team of “food innovation experts” conceived of a taco dusted with the same powder that gives Doritos chips their unique flavor. The munchy mega-brands united, and Taco Bell’s young-male demographic went wild. The company credits its Doritos Locos Taco with generating 450 million taco sales, boosting company sales by 13 percent, and pushing the chain to hire 15,000 new employees.
But the quest for binge-food perfection took years to complete. “In April 2009, this crazy idea began with a trip to Home Depot, where staffers bought a paint-spray gun to blast Doritos flavoring onto a taco,” writes Mr. Carr. The initial recipe flopped. “For the first group of testers, the combination of Doritos with Taco Bell’s shells was neither punchy nor zesty; it was just a displeasing taste mush.” Food engineers worked day and night before they eventually nailed the manufacturing process.
Taco Bell’s next food experiment: breakfast waffle tacos.