Today’s collection of news chum addresses two areas of interest to me: origin stories, and reports of things disappearing. Origin stories are interesting because we don’t often know where some popular things come from; many come from new or emerging trends. Disappearance stories, on the other hand, are often reflective or indicative — again — of trends in society.
- Origin Story: Backpacks. We all know that backpacks were common for camping or hiking. That’s obvious. But for school? Recall the images of yore: Books carried in a leather strap, or a stick, or a briefcase. But the backpack? Therein lies a tale of a rain-soaked Seattle bookstore at the University of Washington decided to work with a company working out of a transmission shop. That company: Jansport.
- Origin Story: Powerpoint. Nowadays it is everywhere — synonymous with presentations. But years ago there were overhead transparencies and slides, often hand drawn or done by secretaries. Perhaps you (like me) did slides in LisaDraw. There were various other software products out there for presentations (I was using Lotus Freelance back in 1996). In fact, the founders of the Silicon Valley firm that created PowerPoint did not set out to make presentation software, let alone build a tool that would transform group communication throughout the world. Rather, PowerPoint was a recovery from dashed hopes that pulled a struggling startup back from the brink of failure—and succeeded beyond anything its creators could have imagined.
- Origin Story: Cinnabon. Walk into a mall today (if you can find one — they are dying off quite rapidly) and there it is: the smell of cinnamon rolls baking. But just like Starbucks and Backpacks, Washington state also give us the ubiquitous Cinnabon cinnamon roll. Today, Cinnabon is headquartered in Atlanta, its Seattle origins now melted into the crevices of its history. But this singular product of 1980s mall culture sprang to life in a test kitchen across the street from Gas Works Park. Its unrepentant decadence remains lodged in our psyche; its relevancy has outlasted arguably less crave-inducing (if equally nutritionally dubious) food court contemporaries like Sbarro or Panda Express or TCBY.
- Disappearance Story: Damaged Art. This one is a real fascinating story. When your car gets totalled, what happens to it? The insurance company takes it, and typically sets it for salvagable parts before scrapping it. So what do insurance companies do when what is damaged is an insured classic piece of art — art that cannot be repaired. Here’s what happens to damaged art when it is declared a total loss. Some of these salvage works end up on the walls of art insurance offices the world over, but more often they’re stored in warehouses, in a kind of limbo while the insurer figures out if they can be auctioned to make up for some of the paid-out claim. In some cases, however, they become art again…
- Disappearance Story: Cassette Tapes. Cassettes are dead, right? Well, not quite. Just like vinyl LPs, cassettes are making a comeback, not just for books on tape, but for artists who want to get their music to fans. There’s only one problem: There are no manufacturers of cassette-size magnetic tape left. National Audio, the last company manufacturing cassettes, says it has less than a year’s supply of tape left. So it is building the first manufacturing line for high-grade ferric oxide cassette tape in the U.S. in decades. If all goes well, the machine will churn out nearly 4 miles of tape a minute by January. And not just any tape. “The best tape ever made,” boasts Mr. Stepp, 69 years old. “People will hear a whole new product.”
- Disappearance Story: LAist, Gothamist, SFist… Earlier this week, DNAinfo and the *ist publications shut down abruptly — as in, you go to lunch, you come back, the site is gone. Here’s an interesting analysis by the former editor of LAist about what cities lost with this shutdown.
- Disappearance Story: Daylight Saving Time and Time Zones. Monday, we all fell back to standard time. This brought out of the woodwork some interesting articles about time. The first, about Massachusetts, concerns an exploration by some Eastern seaboard states about moving from Eastern (3 hours ahead of LA) to Atlantic (4 hours ahead of LA, and the same time zone as PR). The second looks at a larger movement by states to just opt out of DST all together, or shift time zones to be on DST all the time.