April 19, 2016
Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion. ... There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon. ... For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. ... Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. ... Today it costs $27 and sells 10,000 copies a day. (It’s still popular across all age groups; according to Microsoft, the average player is between 28 and 29, and women make up nearly 40 percent of all players.)
Five years ago, after growing Fossil into a $2 billion accessories behemoth, Kartsotis hatched Shinola, a high-end watch brand famous, mostly, for being manufactured in Detroit. ... This is just the latest postmodern layer Kartsotis has baked into Shinola, which is no longer an experiment in manufacturing authenticity, but a fast-growing business. "The coolest brand in America"--as recently ordained by Adweek--can now be found in boutiques from Paris to Singapore. Shinola retail stores have surfaced in more than a dozen cities; plans are to almost triple that by late 2017. The brand isn't slowing down for anyone--not even the Federal Trade Commission. In November, the government agency went after Shinola's "Built in Detroit" tagline, accusing the company of embellishing its made-in-America claims. ... Kartsotis has spent his career finding creative ways to boost the value of ordinary products. Born to a Greek American family, he dropped out of Texas A&M, discovering his entrepreneurial flair as a ticket scalper. In his early 20s, he ventured to Asia with a plan to import cheap toys, until he was tipped off that the market for moderately priced Asian-made watches was growing. With $200,000 that he'd earned scalping, Kartsotis opened Overseas Products International, an importer of watches from Hong Kong. But it wasn't until Kartsotis came across Life and Look magazines from the 1950s that Overseas morphed into the brand called Fossil.
The company’s genesis can be traced back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair that took place in Chicago. A recent MIT electrical engineering grad, William Henry Merrill, was hired by insurers to investigate Nicola Tesla’s work illuminating the exposition, which apparently consumed three times as much electricity as the rest of the city of Chicago at the time. Buildings were catching on fire at the fair, and insurance adjustors wanted to know why. Realizing the myriad potential fire hazards that the burgeoning lighting and electricity industries could pose, Merrill decided to stay in Chicago and set up an organization dedicated to testing electrical products and writing safety standards for them. ... More than a century later, UL is still contending with the same problems Merrill saw at the Columbian Exposition—short circuits, faulty wiring, shoddy manufacturing; anything that can cause a product to catch fire. But for the most part, our electronics and houses don’t spontaneously combust, and, in the US, that’s generally because of the increasingly specific and bizarre tests UL puts products through.
We read almost every week of new research into the deleterious effects of sugar on our bodies. In the US, the latest edition of the government’s official dietary guidelines includes a cap on sugar consumption. In the UK, the chancellor George Osborne has announced a new tax on sugary drinks. Sugar has become dietary enemy number one. ... This represents a dramatic shift in priority. For at least the last three decades, the dietary arch-villain has been saturated fat. When Yudkin was conducting his research into the effects of sugar, in the 1960s, a new nutritional orthodoxy was in the process of asserting itself. Its central tenet was that a healthy diet is a low-fat diet. Yudkin led a diminishing band of dissenters who believed that sugar, not fat, was the more likely cause of maladies such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. But by the time he wrote his book, the commanding heights of the field had been seized by proponents of the fat hypothesis. Yudkin found himself fighting a rearguard action, and he was defeated. ... In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. ... We tend to think of heretics as contrarians, individuals with a compulsion to flout conventional wisdom. But sometimes a heretic is simply a mainstream thinker who stays facing the same way while everyone around him turns 180 degrees. When, in 1957, John Yudkin first floated his hypothesis that sugar was a hazard to public health, it was taken seriously, as was its proponent. By the time Yudkin retired, 14 years later, both theory and author had been marginalised and derided. Only now is Yudkin’s work being returned, posthumously, to the scientific mainstream.