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Under Old Management: A Giant List of 14 Changes at Starbucks

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"We're not this young, beloved, entrepreneurial enterprise anymore"¦ We have to do business in a different way." "“ Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

And that's exactly what he's doing "“ business in a different way. And then in a different way. And then in a way that's different from that. In early January, Schultz reclaimed the CEO torch he passed on back in 2000 and has since been making some pretty drastic and rather disparate changes. So far we've seen:

1. The Mystery Concoction/Game Changer

Picture 25.pngSo, how do you one-up what every one else in the caffeine vending business is doing. According to Schultz, there's a new brew that he's been referring to as "a game-changer in the coffee space, something in a cup." What is it? My guess is it's the Sorbetto frozen beverage that the 'Bucks released in LA & OC early in July, but we'll just have to wait to see.

2. Putting faith in an $11,000 machine

Story has it that Schultz saw the line at Café Grumpy in Chelsea, which uses an $11,000 Clover coffeemaker, got a coffee and declared it the "best cup of brewed coffee I have ever tasted." So good, in fact, that he discreetly bought the Clover-making company, the Coffee Equipment Company, and began installing Clovers at stores in Seattle and Boston in summer 07. Clover-made coffee sold for as much as $3.05, which is about a dollar more than Starbucks' regular brew. He plans to accelerate the rollout of the machines in the US and international markets.

3. New Store Design

Picture 27.pngStarbucks is also apparently looking into changing the design of the 15,000 stores. Architect Magazine asked 5 teams of architects from around the country to share their vision of the 21st century coffee shop. You can check them out at the link above.

4. Stop watering down the flavor

Though Starbucks denies it, the introduction of the Pike's Place Roast was in response to increasing competition from Dunkin Donuts and McD's (whose coffee tastes better than Starbucks, per a Consumer Reports survey). Starbucks wanted an "everyday brew," which is a better way of saying it has placated the American taste for a limp brew.

5. Drum up the Nostalgia

Over and over, the mantra has been "return to our core "“ all things coffee." In that spirit, Starbucks has been drumming up the nostalgia for the little brand that could, and even reintroduced the old icon of the mermaid, with a brown logo carrying a tagline "Roasting Coffee Since 1971."

6. Banish the breakfast sandwich

While it earns the 'Bucks a tidy profit, it deviates from the core business "“ "all things coffee." Plus, the smell interfered with the coffee aroma in the store, and thus, the Starbucks experience. Schultz swore to pull it in January"¦

7. Then bring back the breakfast sandwich

"¦But rumors have spread that Starbucks is actually bringing the breakfast sandwich back. Apparently, they've been "reformulated to eliminate the 'smell' problem.

8. Ditch the music label

If you didn't know, Starbucks started a record label called HearMusic. It even has its own XM channel (now Starbucks XM Café). But despite drawing talent like Paul McCartney, Starbucks is scaling the business back. Good move, since it only sells an average of 2 CD's a day per store. Talk about deviating from the core business.

9. Ditch the underperformers

In July, Starbucks announced its closure of 600 stores. Check this map for a closure near you, or peep the full list. It's also dropping 61 of its 84 stores in Australia, and eliminating 1,000 support jobs (not including all layoffs due to stores closures).

10. Re-Education

Schultz closed more than 7,000 stores for three hours in February to allow 135,000 baristas to relearn—or learn—how to make a espresso.

11. One Buck 'Bucks

Starbucks offered $1.00 Short cups of coffee with free refills (in Seattle-area stores) earlier in January. Who knew there was a short?

12. Discounts to Addicts

Starbucks said it will now offer its morning customers any iced grande beverage for $2 after 2 p.m. That's a big cut, since a grande iced latte, for example, normally costs $4. Customers must present a receipt from their morning Starbucks visit in order to get the discount.

13. Starbucks Card Rewards

Now they want to reward loyal customers by giving them customizations like syrup or an extra shot on the house. So if you have a rewards card and you order a tall hazelnut latte, you will only be charged for a tall latte. Rewards card holders are also given up to 2 consecutive hours of free internet in the stores.

14. MyStarbucksIdea.com

Yes, it's yet another company tring to get in on the social networking game. Now you can join up with Starbucks online where you can share your ideas, engage in conversations, and play a role in shaping Starbucks future.

See more of what Diana learned today, here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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