Monday, May 07, 2007

More perfect

Most people in the US can't cook. So you would think that reaching out to the masses with entry-level cooking instruction would be a smart business move.

In fact, as the Food Network and cookbook publishers have demonstrated over and over again, you're way better off helping the perfect improve. You'll also sell a lot more management consulting to well run companies, high end stereos to people with good stereos and yes, church services to the already well behaved.


Kraft Launches Second Life Supermarket

Kraft Foods is opening shop on Second Life today.

The company is using the popular virtual-world Web site to showcase 70 new products as part of its sales pitch to retailers at the annual industry convention, the Food Marketing Institute show, which runs May 6 though 8.

Kraft hosts the grand opening today of a new Second Life store, “Phil’s Supermarket,” named for TV’s “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, food editor for the “Today” show. The store will be a permanent feature on Second Life, which has 6 million registered users and counting.

Kraft, which has paid an undisclosed amount of money to sponsor the virtual supermarket, is the only food manufacturer whose brands will appear in the store. In fact, it is the only packaged goods company tied to the store: Lempert’s other partners are IBM and the National Grocers Association.

Part of Kraft’s deal includes links from Second Life to its own Web site for nutrition education and to other sites, such as Second Harvest, as well as online forums for Second Life “residents” to chat with Kraft Kitchen experts.

“This non-traditional effort illustrates how we’re changing the way we market our products to build brand equity and remain relevant to our key consumers,” said Kraft spokesperson Lisa Gibbons.

The supermarket opens with simultaneous online and real-world ribbon cuttings with Kraft North America president Rick Searer at the FMI Show in Chicago. During the ceremony, Kraft will donate $450,000 (in real money) to Second Harvest. It’s the first time a corporate donation is being staged in Second Life, according to Kraft.

Product launches are a top priority for Kraft under the growth plan that CEO Irene Rosenfeld outlined in Febuary. Kraft’s strategy now is to compete in broader categories—for example, pitting DiGiorno pizza against local pizzerias, not just other frozen pizzas. Its launches this week cover four main sectors: health and wellness, premium taste, quick meals and snacking.

"We are looking at our products through a new lens—the eyes of the consumer," Searer said in a statement. "By reframing our categories and focusing on four growing segments … our 2007 product innovations fit the dynamic lifestyles of our consumers."

Thirty of its new items are headed to U.S. supermarkets later this year, under brands including DiGiorno, Jell-O, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia, Planters and South Beach Diet. Kraft also is launching cheeses with probiotics and prebiotics, the digestive-aid ingredients that have become the newest buzzwords in nutrition. A new sub-brand, called LiveActive, piggybacks flagship Kraft brand cheese for Kraft LiveActive cheese sticks and cheese cubes (with probiotics) as well as the Breakstone's and Knudsen brands for LiveActive cottage cheese (with prebiotic fiber). Other new products include:

  • Planters NUT-rition Energy Mix (dark chocolate-covered soy nuts with peanuts, almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts)
  • Kraft Bistro Deluxe Pastas (mac and cheese with sundried tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms or Asiago cheese)
  • Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Hot Sandwich Melts (microwavable sandwiches)
  • South Beach Diet Chicken Salad Kits
  • Taco Bell Home Originals Bowlz (single-serve heat-and-eat Mexican food)
  • Oreo Cakesters Soft Snack Cakes
  • Jell-O Pudding Mix-Ins (pudding with chocolate, mint or caramel chips mixed in)


Spanish solar tower could eventually power an entire city

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Just last month we witnessed a gigantic skyscraper / solar tower hybrid that generates a whopping 390-kilowatts of energy, but even that looks like child's play compared to the 40-story solar power plant that resides in Spain. The expansive system consists of a towering concrete building, a field of 600 (and growing) sun-tracking mirrors that are each 120-square meters in size, and a receiver that converts concentrated solar energy from the heliostats into steam that eventually drives the turbines. Currently, only one field of mirrors is up and running, but even that produces enough power to energize 6,000 homes, and the creators are hoping to see the entire population of Seville (600,000 folks) taken care of solely from sunlight. So if you're eager to see what's likely the greenest solar power plant currently operating, be sure to slip on some shades, tag the read link, and peep the video.
Power station harnesses Sun's rays
By David Shukman Science correspondent, BBC News, Seville

Solar thermal power station   Image: BBC
A field of 600 mirrors reflects rays from the Sun
There is a scene in one of the Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant "tractor beam" of energy at Earth in order to extract a massive payment.

Well, the memory of it kept me chuckling as I toured the extraordinary scene of the new solar thermal power plant outside Seville in southern Spain.

From a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn't believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

The effect is to give the whole place a glow - even an aura - and if you're concerned about climate change that may well be deserved.

Field of mirrors   Image: BBC
It is Europe's first commercially operating power station using the Sun's energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes.

But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.

It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power.

As I climbed out of the car, I could hardly open my eyes - the scene was far too bright. Gradually, though, shielded by sunglasses, I made out the rows of mirrors (each 120 sq m in size) and the focus of their reflected beams - a collection of water pipes at the top of the tower.

It was probably the heat that did it, but I found myself making the long journey up to the very top - to the heart of the solar inferno.

David Shukman on top of the tower   Image: BBC
David had to wear sunglasses to shield his eyes from the glare
A lift took me most of the way but cameraman Duncan Stone and I had to climb the last four storeys by ladder. We could soon feel the heat, despite thick insulation around the boiler.

It was like being in a sauna and for the last stages the metal rungs of the ladders were scalding.

But our reward was the cool breeze at the top of the tower - and the staggering sight of a blaze of light heading our way from down below.

So far, only one field of mirrors is working. But to one side I could see the bulldozers at work clearing a second, larger field - thousands more mirrors will be installed.

Letting off steam

I met one of the gurus of solar thermal power, Michael Geyer, an international director of the energy giant Abengoa, which owns the plant. He is ready with answers to all the tricky questions.

What happens when the Sun goes down? Enough heat can be stored in the form of steam to allow generation after dark - only for an hour now but maybe longer in future.

Anyway, the solar power is most needed in the heat of summer when air conditioners are working flat out.

Is it true that this power is three times more expensive than power from conventional sources? Yes, but prices will fall, as they have with wind power, as the technologies develop.

Also, a more realistic comparison is with the cost of generating power from coal or gas only at times of peak demand - then this solar system seems more attractive.

The vision is of the sun-blessed lands of the Mediterranean - even the Sahara desert - being carpeted with systems like this with the power cabled to the drizzlier lands of northern Europe. A dazzling idea in a dazzling location.

Annotated pictures of solar tower, receiver, heliostat
1. The solar tower is 115m (377ft) tall and surrounded by 600 steel reflectors (heliostats). They track the sun and direct its rays to a heat exchanger (receiver) at the top of the tower
2. The receiver converts concentrated solar energy from the heliostats into steam
3. Steam is stored in tanks and used to drive turbines that will produce enough electricity for up to 6,000 homes


Credit card offers in-game World of Warcraft rewards: it's real now

Link (via the-inbetween via Makezine via Joi Ito)


Attack of the Advertising Widgets

Widgets are being turned into advertising delivery systems. Their nature - rich media applicatons that are easy to build, customize and add to a site - also make them an attractive way to add advertising to small sites. Google is now testing gadget ads, and we’ve written about services like boobox and AuctionAds (a sponsor) that easily ad affiliate advertising to a site via widgets. Last week eBay also launched “to go” widgets that let publishers embed ebay listings into websites, although for now there are no affiliate payments tied to those widgets.

Two more are coming this week. Tonight Silicon Valley-based Tumri is announcing a new product called Tumri Publisher, and Seattle’s Mpire will announce an advertising widget later this week.

Tumri Publisher, which is described here, allows users to create highly customizable widgets that promote specific products on their websites, in exchange for an affiliate or other fee. Tumri has twenty or so direct relationships with ecommerce sites like Overstock, Walmart, and others to promote their products. Most advertising pay on a purchase, although at least one partner pays a on each click to their website.

Tumri splits revenue from the advertising 50/50 with advertising, and they say they’ll pay up to 70% of proceeds to larger publishers.

The widgets are javascript powered; the company says Flash versions are coming soon.

Tumri was founded in 2004 and has raised $6.5 million in a Series A round of financing from Shasta Ventures and Accel. They are currently closing a second round. They have 31 employees (16 in India, 15 in Silicon Valley).