RICK ASTER

What’s coming — and what does it take to be ready for the future?


RICK ASTER’S WORLD


July 2017. In Search of the New Hot Dog

If what I am seeing in advertising is any indication, hot dogs have completed the transition to a one-day-a-year food for most of the people who eat them. . . . (read more)

June 2017. Using a Laser to Label Produce

Labeling fruit and root vegetables has for many years been a problem with no perfect solution. . . . (read more)

May 2017. Back to Paper

The trend away from paper documents has gone farther than we really want, so that we are due for a countertrend — going back to paper in the same way that the record industry is going back to vinyl. . . . (read more)

April 2017. Software Is Getting More Stable

Ten years ago it seemed that computer software would always be unreliable. . . . (read more)

March 2017. Travel Is Getting Harder to Do

The story of travel over the last three centuries was a series of improvements. With canals, railroads, paved highways, and airports, travel was easier, faster, and more frequent. Suddenly in this century, that trend has reversed. . . . (read more)

February 2017. USB as a Power Standard

The new IKEA power strip has two USB charging ports. . . . (read more)

January 2017. You Are Being Watched

It is an instinct to know when you are being watched and especially when you are being tracked. . . . (read more)

December 2016. All I Want for Christmas Is a Stable Internet

Since Cyber Monday was invented, it has been a day when you could watch the Internet break. . . . (read more)

November 2016. An Era for Wizardry

It is a good time to be a wizard. What would Harry Potter do, faced with the problems of the world today? . . . (read more)

October 2016. Shining a Light on Wage Theft

In a worldwide cultural shift, crimes that used to slip by unnoticed are suddenly being seen . . . (read more)

September 2016. TV on Twitter

Starting this month, the Thursday night NFL football game is on Twitter. . . . (read more)

August 2016. The Last Fax

The book business doesn’t run on fax machines anymore. . . . (read more)

July 2016. How Flat Is the World?

With the Internet, the world is “flat.” Huge international corporations compete with high schoolers who don’t even necessarily care about turning a profit. But how flat is the world? . . . (read more)

June 2016. Infrared Solar Cells

When you think of solar power, you probably think of the conventional solar cells that use photons of visible light to move electrons across a gap, generating an electric current. But only half of the energy in sunlight is visible light. . . . (read more)

May 2016. Electronic Documents Are Shrinking Too

The use of paper is declining for the first time in history as paper documents become fewer and smaller. The common understanding of this trend is that paper documents are being replaced by electronic documents. In many cases, that’s accurate, but in some ways, electronic documents are also part of the trend away from documents. Electronic documents too are getting smaller and less numerous . . . (read more)

April 2016. Local Bookstores

One of the last major bookstores in Chester County, Pennsylvania is preparing to close. If the fortunes of the other bookstores in the county do not improve, Chester County could shortly find itself without a bookstore. . . . (read more)

March 2016. Treading Lightly

It’s a trend: more people are approaching their dealings with the larger world and especially the Internet with a strategy I would describe as a calculated minimalism. . . . (read more)

February 2016. Targeted by an Advertising Experiment

Twitter has been experimenting on me . . . (read more)

January 2016. Solar Boom Adds to Pressure on Energy Prices

The solar business is booming. In the United States solar is now larger than natural gas by some measures. The solar boom defies conventional thinking that predicted that low prices for fossil fuels would hurt demand for sustainable energy. . . . (read more)

December 2015. Oil Production Rises As Prices Fall

Just eight years ago, it was starting to look like oil production had reached its peak. . . . (read more)

November 2015. Music Sales Decline As Listeners Switch to Streaming

Streaming is the talk of the music industry this year, with the number of song streams nearly double last year’s pace. It is not necessarily good news for the music industry . . . (read more)

October 2015. Finding Science in TV Weather

TV weather is becoming more scientific in style. Ten years ago, the banter that accompanied by small talk and banter so light it might make you forget that weather is a subject of scientific inquiry. This year you are more likely to hear a nuanced discussion of the relative likelihood of competing forecast scenarios than a mention of folk wisdom or superstition about weather events. . . . (read more)

September 2015. Singing “Happy Birthday”

“Happy Birthday” has long held a unique place in U.S. culture, a ritual song sung on birthdays that you couldn’t legally perform without a license. . . . (read more)

August 2015. The Electric Car Sound

What should an electric car sound like? . . . (read more)

July 2015. A Global Record Release Day: Friday

The world’s record companies got together and agreed that Friday would be a nice day to release new records. . . . (read more)

June 2015. Mining the Oceans for Plastics

A small fraction of all the world’s plastics end up in the ocean, where they break into small pieces that take centuries to decay. This abandoned plastic poses a substantial ecological threat, but it could also be a source of a valuable raw material if an efficient way to collect it could be found. . . . (read more)

May 2015. Part of the Picture: Energy Strategies That Blend In

If you are looking for the new energy efficiency and electrical generation strategies, you might have to look carefully. They are more popular than it appears . . . (read more)

April 2015. The New Food Awareness

Over the 20th century people became less aware of the food they were eating as there was a mass migration from farms to urban centers. A countertrend started around 1960, though, and accelerated with the Internet. Now people are becoming aware of food in a way that they never were before. . . . (read more)

March 2015. Office on a Bus

The rise of the mini-tablet computer should be a boost for urban mass transit. . . . (read more)

February 2015. Shrinking Paper Documents

Printed paper documents are not only fewer in number. They are getting smaller too. . . . (read more)

January 2015. Where Did the $5 Albums Go?

For a few years, record companies and digital music retailers routinely ran promotions in which hundreds of albums would be offered at a low price, often $5, for a limited time. That angle seems to have lost its pull. . . . (read more)

December 2014. Dropping Voice Mail

It’s a trend: corporate offices are dropping voice mail in favor of newer messaging media that are more user-friendly. . . . (read more)

November 2014. Batteries That Recharge Faster

Progress in making batteries smaller and lighter has been slow to come, so now some engineers are focusing on ways to make batteries recharge faster . . . (read more)

October 2014. Plasma Video Display Gives Way to LCD

A few years ago, plasma looked like the ultimate TV display . . . (read more)

September 2014. Revel Closes Quietly as Atlantic City Gambling Declines

The latest Atlantic City casino closing, a few hours ago, went quietly. . . . (read more)

August 2014. A Failed State, Then the Spread of War

We avoid war at all costs in part because the best way to minimize the chances of war in the future is for everyone to avoid the experience of war now. . . . (read more)

July 2014. Politics as a TV Show (With No One Watching)

Politics and television form one of the current great ironies of U.S. culture. . . . (read more)

June 2014. The Irrationality of Corporate Decision-Making

Corporate decision-making is hard to explain. It is not rational, not even approximately rational. Many people make the mistake of thinking that corporations are rational in financial matters, but fail to balance financial priorities with other priorities. But it is easy to find examples to show that even when only financial consequences are considered, decisions are still not rational. . . . (read more)

May 2014. Solar Arrays on Building Sites

Here is a new trend: commercial building sites being used for solar arrays. . . . (read more)

April 2014. A Place for Papers

The office is a fantastically complex institution, so it is surprising to discover the extent to which it is ultimately just a place for papers to sit. The “paperless office” we started to imagine a quarter century ago . . . (read more)

March 2014. E-Waste Laws That Aren’t Quite Working

E-waste laws in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states make it illegal to place various electronic devices in the trash. . . . (read more)

February 2014. Cast Iron Cookware in Comeback

Cast iron cookware fell out of favor in the 1970s. . . . Now cast iron seems to be making a comeback. . . . (read more)

January 2014. Digital Currency Can Be Virtually Canceled

Digital currency was originally meant to resemble cash in the way it could be exchanged. In one respect, though, digital currency is not so much like cash, but more like a bank account. . . . (read more)

December 2013. A Frozen Continent

As I write this, almost the entire North American continent is freezing . . . (read more)

November 2013. Cost of Cooking

Cooking takes time and skill, but it costs less than most people realize. When you cook food at home, you essentially pay just for the ingredients, and these cost a fraction of what you pay for prepared food. . . . (read more)

October 2013. Sincerity as a Style

Somehow, sincerity has become a style rather than a state of mind. . . . (read more)

September 2013. The Sports Clique

For half a century, professional team sports were part of the routine office chatter that anyone in the office might participate in . . . Over the past decade, the conversation has changed. . . . (read more)

August 2013. Hi-Fi Downloads

Better-sounding music downloads are on the way in the near future. . . . (read more)

July 2013. Less Printing

Computer printers are becoming less important as people print less. . . . (read more)

June 2013. The Used Cell Phone

You may never have to buy a new cell phone again . . . (read more)

May 2013. Polypropylene

Polypropylene has quietly become the new favorite plastic . . . (read more)

April 2013. With Higher Transaction Fees, Fewer Purchases?

As banking transactions become more expensive, will people respond by buying fewer things? . . . (read more)

March 2013. Authoring Without Tools

Authoring tools are no longer a meaningful part of the authoring process. . . . (read more)

February 2013. Better Incandescent Light Bulbs

The improvements promised by new lighting technology are leading to improvements in incandescent and fluorescent lights, as those older technologies try to keep up . . . (read more)

January 2013. More Change, Less Discussion

We are adapting to a more rapid pace of change, and one way we are adapting is by not discussing every change that we observe. . . . (read more)

December 2012. Synthesized Voices Join the Dialect Mix

Voice designers have to choose a dialect for each voice they synthesize, though they likely wish they didn’t have to. (read more)

November 2012. Designing Water-Safe Buildings

A frightfully high proportion of buildings are likely to be in the water at some point, the result of storms, climate trends, tsunamis, and broken pipes. It is something of a mistake, then, that buildings are designed on the assumption that they will remain above water. (read more)

October 2012. Losing Summer Rain With Climate Change

One of the early effects of warming climates, first identified in the 1960s, is the loss of precipitation in the middle of continents, particularly at mid-latitudes and around midsummer. We may be seeing that this year . . . (read more)

September 2012. More Accurate Pitch Correction

Pitch correction is widely used to make singers sound like they are more in tune than they really are. . . . (read more)

August 2012. Chrome Is Top Web Browser

Chrome has quietly become the most popular web browser . . . (read more)

July 2012. Rework

Def Leppard is recording “forgeries” of some of its biggest hits. The note-for-note reconstruction of a song such as “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is an example of rework: redoing work that has already been done. . . . (read more)

June 2012. The Tradeoff Between Size and Repairability

A new model of the Apple MacBook Pro has drawn criticism for the difficulty of repairing it. Most components are permanently fastened in place . . . (read more)

May 2012. Context-Free Music and Disposable Light Bulbs

Change often sneaks up on us, and attitudes and expectations may change before there is an obvious change in behavior. . . . (read more)

April 2012. Flash vs. Hard Disk

Hard disk drives still have the edge over flash memory — but for how long? . . . (read more)

March 2012. Time to Scan

If you have been waiting for the right time to convert paper files to digital data, now is the time. . . . (read more)

February 2012. Laser Beats Ink

At a Presidents’ Day sale I saw an office laser printer selling, quietly, for $50. It is the best indication yet that laser printers are beating out ink-jet printers . . . (read more)

January 2012. 2012

Well, here it is. A year in which we can expect sweeping change, according to a panoply of prophets and experts. . . . (read more)

December 2011. Models Meet Avatars

It is getting harder and harder to tell models and avatars apart. . . . (read more)

November 2011. Pianos Get Personal

It costs less than ever to own a piano. . . . (read more)

October 2011. HTML 5 Simplifies Online Video

HTML 5 might be two years away from official approval, but it is already simplifying Internet video. . . . (read more)

September 2011. Slim Business Cards

The trend toward minimalism in paper documents has now reached business cards. . . . (read more)

August 2011. Cardboard Shoes

I am old enough to remember when cardboard was the core of almost all shoes. . . . (read more)

July 2011. Lighter Products

Two vignettes from my work this month point to a current trend in product design: designers and engineers are looking hard for ways to reduce the weight of the products they design. . . . (read more)

June 2011. Cell Phone Video

Lately, I have been watching hours of weather videos, with the recent floods, tornados, and volcanic eruptions. The videos come from every kind of camera. There are broadcast news cameras, security cameras, and webcams. Most of the videos, though, come from cell phones. . . . (read more)

May 2011. When You Feel Ready

As I write this, people are talking about a prediction of the end of the world . . . (read more)

April 2011. Firefox 4 Streamlined Like Mobile Version

I wrote a month ago about web sites that have been streamlined after developers gained insight into simpler design approaches while working on mobile versions of the sites. I hadn’t imagined the same process would also happen with a web browser, but that is exactly what has happened with Firefox 4 . . . (read more)

March 2011. Faster Web Sites

Designers are learning from the challenge of rebuilding web sites to work on mobile devices. The redesigned sites are, quite simply, faster and better . . . (read more)


RICK ASTER’S WORLD HISTORY


Rick Aster’s Notebook | Fish Nation Information Station