Less Than Ideal

Most of us know the feeling. You've got your shiny new Apple device on your wrist, in the bag that’s slung over your shoulder, or perpetually within reach on the nearest flat surface. You just bought this device recently, and you love it. Without a doubt, there is no list to create, message to read, or search to perform that your new digital toy doesn’t get the first crack at. It can seemingly do just about everything that it’s older siblings can do- and the two of you are still honeymooning, after all.

This eagerness to investigate the features and functionalities of a new device is normal. As a relentless early adopter, the uncharted waters of a new Apple device or operating system is about as exciting as my day-to-day life gets. But eventually the exploration concludes, and the device settles somewhere into my daily life or workflow.

But how do I decide when to use one device instead of one of the others that I carry? “First World Problem” that it may be, this is one of those modern conundrums that is not easily answered.

Just ask Apple's Senior VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller.

As part of a recent piece for Medium’s Backchannel column, Steven Levy interviewed Schiller and this very topic came up:

Schiller, in fact, has a grand philosophical theory of the Apple product line that puts all products on a continuum. Ideally, you should be using the smallest possible gadget to do as much as possible before going to the next largest gizmo in line.

“They are all computers,” he says. “Each one is offering computers something unique and each is made with a simple form that is pretty eternal. The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade.”

Now, I can only reasonably assume that Phil Schiller he has contributed mightily to all of the Apple products and campaigns that I’ve enjoyed over the years. For that reason alone, I’m a big fan of his work. You could say that I’m generally in his camp, so to speak. But this meandering quote of his- as well as the preceding “philosophical theory” that Levy attributes directly to him- jumped off the page, distressing me the moment that I read it.

Phil Schiller with John Gruber, June 2015. 

Phil Schiller with John Gruber, June 2015. 

There are two distinct (though related) parts to this excerpt that we should take a look at. First, the notion that “Ideally, you should be using the smallest possible gadget to do as much as possible”. To be fair, again this is not a direct quote from Schiller himself. Further, beginning the sentence with “Ideally” does operate as a bit of a comprehensive disclaimer. However, I feel that the glorification of “smallest possible” has lead Apple down the wrong path in recent years. In other words: disclaimer or not, there's been a lot of smoke coming from this fire lately.

Apple has always been aggressive about displaying core functionality in their product lines, whether in the name of design elegance or in service to the agenda of a future product line. But more recently, Apple has been quite brazen in it's introduction of compromises to the functionality of products in the name of “thin”, when further thinness is simply not an ideal worth chasing. Beyond that, there’s a deceptive fallacy that this philosophy perpetuates: that using the smallest gadget you own to do as much as it can possibly do is in a user’s best interest. Anybody who has sworn off performing any number of common actions on their Apple Watch (with their iPhone in their pocket, no less!) knows that the “use the smallest gadget” approach, if generally adhered to, will cause a lot of frustration.

On to the second part of the excerpt from Levy’s piece, which is Schiller’s quote about “the job of” each product category in Apple’s growing line of gadgets. Here, he basically says that the reason for each product line’s existence is primarily to replace the need for each subsequent, physically larger product. With all due respect to Schiller, I actually cannot believe that this quote made it to print. In a piece that mostly feels like it could have been written by Apple PR itself, the statement feels wildly out of place.

A little background: One of the triumphant moments in Apple history was the unveiling of the first iPhone, in early 2007. This was the scene for perhaps Steve Jobs’ most memorable stage appearance. Ever the showman, Jobs famously opened the preceding by claiming that he was there to announce three new devices- A great cell phone, their best iPod yet, and a powerful internet communicator. Only to reveal, of course, that Apple had rolled all 3 of these devices into one, the iPhone. He masterfully combined a flair for the dramatic with good, sound, Marketing 101. He was there to show off his new baby, but he wasn’t going to let the moment rob him of the reason he was really there that day: to tell the world what this device was going to do better than any device before it. With the iPod already a runaway hit in millions of pockets worldwide, and laptop computers the dominant means to accessing the internet, Jobs made sure to communicate where the iPhone would fit into their lives.



Again, in the lead up to the iPad launch, Jobs told the New York Times that Apple’s new tablet would have to “be far better at doing some key things” in order to establish it’s niche between the iPhone and the Mac. During his 2010 introduction of the iPad, he used on stage props to emphasize the contextually unique nature of the iPad's feature offerings when he sat down in an overstuffed black leather chair to perform his demo.

This is not only nothing new to Apple, but it is still practiced today. In the days following last fall’s Apple Watch announcement, analyst Horace Dediu of Asymco wrote a memorable piece in which he points out that Tim Cook went right back to the Jobs playbook as he introduced Apple's first wearable device:

Tim Cook, September 2014. Steve Jobs, January 2007.

Tim Cook, September 2014. Steve Jobs, January 2007.

Of course, the reason iPhone outgrew its tentpoles is because of the app economy. 1.3 million apps does that to a product. When it becomes a platform a product invites collaboration on the problem of innovation. Collaborative innovation explodes the opportunity to discover new needs and uses. How, when and why people use the product changes beyond anyone’s imagination.

But this does not mean that the tentpoles used at launch are in any way in error. They are necessary to explain the value of a new category. The audience can’t be told “wait and see all the cool stuff you’ll be able to do with it”. They need to be told why it’s useful today. They speak in the language the audience can understand today. Steve Jobs could not talk in the language of apps and services in 2007. The unforeseen became the inevitable.

Tentpoles therefore don’t define the product but do provide the starting blocks from which the initial buyers make a cognition leap. And once they’re off, the others will know where to go.

Again, establishing and reiterating a product's Job To Be Done is neither new or all that innovative. It's the job of a marketer to understand this, and communicate it effectively.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that Phil Schiller was properly prepared to explain, in a nutshell, what each of Apple's product lines excel at. In fact, it's a fool's errand to even attempt to do so. The bottom line is that it is the responsibility of the user to determine the best handful of duties for each new device in his or her lineup. There is no right or wrong set of activities for an individual to undertake on any given device- and certainly, it's not decided by something so arbitrary as the size of the device. To each, their own.

With the arrival of the iPad Pro, there is yet another new device to choose from. As always, one would be wise to go into that decision trying to gain an understanding for what that device might be able to better than one of the products they are currently employing. What one would like for this product to do for them- not whether the task at hand could possibly be performed by the "smallest possible gadget" they can find.

The Elements of Cooking

photo credit: Bryan Bassett          eating credit: Me

photo credit: Bryan Bassett          eating credit: Me

I love to eat eggs.

I absolutely love them. And as much as I love eating eggs, I probably love cooking them even more. While I don’t get to have them every day, it’s true enough to say that any morning that I’m not cooking an egg, it's only a matter of being either out of eggs or short on time.

Cooking, in general, is special to me. It's something that allows me focus intently on doing things the proper way, while also taking small risks and being creative. There's just something about it that I find very cathartic. So, putting a simple egg dish together for breakfast is a quick and satisfying way to scratch that itch several days a week.

I also love to read about food. I've had Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking on my radar for years, but only just last week picked it up. So when I read what Ruhlman has to say about The Almighty Egg in the first chapter, I learned that he and I would get along just fine:


“My reverence for the egg borders on religious devotion. It is the perfect food—an inexpensive package, dense with nutrients and exquisitely flavored, that’s both easily and simply prepared but that is also capable of unmatched versatility in the kitchen. Yes, an egg is just an egg, but it is also ingredient, tool, and object, a natural construction of near mystical proportions.

The egg is both nutritious and inexpensive. The egg is delicious served on its own. In combination with other ingredients, it can be even better. It adds flavor and richness to countless preparations, to others, texture and body. The egg is a versatile tool that transforms the consistencies of other ingredients: it can give liquids silkiness, turn oil into a sauce that has the luxurious, dense smoothness of a face cream, make chocolate fluffy and cream molten, turn a batter from liquid into a light solid sponge. It can be used whole or separated; the white and the yolk behave with unique and powerful properties of their own, either raw or cooked, and when cooked, cooked to any number of degrees. Even its shell can be used. And as an aesthetic object, considered for its design, the “egg is artful and, except for its propensity to roll off counters, efficient.”

Tough to argue with that, right?

Elements isn't all love-letters and pontifical monologues pertaining to Ruhlman's favorite ingredients. After the opening chapter on stocks, sauces, salt and the egg, it becomes more of an A-Z enclopedia of the various elements of classical French cooking. There is just enough opinion peppered in to keep things interesting, but make no mistake: this is an educational reference tool for cooks of all experience levels. If you consider yourself to be just enough of a Foodie 1 that you aspire to know at least a little bit about everything that takes place in a well-run kitchen, you need to own The Elements of Cooking.

You will need to read this one more than once, but if you're at all like me, you'll be happy to.

  1. I know- I hate "Foodie" as much as you do, but we haven't come up with a replacement yet, have we?

Oklahoma Republican Claims Opponent Is Dead, Replaced by Body Double

Murray brings it up in his letter announcing his plan to contest Lucas’s election writing, “…it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike.”

As I understand it, replacing a deceased Congressman with a body double or some kind of robot is still frowned upon in the state of Oklahoma.

Bill Murray: National Treasure

When the two seem distracted, Gauba looked up to tell them to look at the camera and that's when he saw Murray hamming it up.

"I thought who the heck is bothering them," Gauba told the Post and Courier. "I turn around and it's Bill Murray with his shirt up, belly out, tapping his belly and trying to make them laugh."

Gauba asked Murray if he wanted to be in a photo. "Sure I would," Gauba recalled to the Post and Courier. "I took the shot and off he goes."

Go ahead and try to convince me that Bill Murray is not our greatest living celebrity. Nobody has more fun with their fame.

Can A Computer Cook?

As you may recall from a recent episode of Overheard, I find many of the technological advancements being made in the world of food to be pretty creepy.

Still, the push for new food tech persists. Most recently, IBM's famously intelligent computer, "Watson", has moved on from humiliating people on TV to compiling some of the weirdest recipes you would otherwise never, ever hear of:

Watson's Austrian Chocolate Burrito

Watson's Austrian Chocolate Burrito

Watson’s cooking expertise begins with its backlog of some 35,000 recipes, which collectively provide basic information about food composition and flavor pairings. (What’s a quiche? What’s ratatouille?) It also knows the molecular chemistry of over a thousand different flavor ingredients—everything from black tea to Bantu beer—and has input from the racy-sounding field of hedonic psychophysics, which quantifies the tastes and flavor sensations that people tend to like. (Shrimp and licorice? Caviar and white chocolate? Blue cheese and rum?) Watson’s mission, based on these data, is to invent recipes that are both yummy and unconventional. And it looks like it’s succeeding.

Given a theme and a description—say “Spanish” and “breakfast bun” or “Thai” and “sweet potato”—Watson can come up with any number of suggestions with lists of novel ingredients. Its culinary mix-and-matches have produced such unexpected combos as bearmeat with saffron and sandalwood, avocado Napoleons, and an off-the-wall kebab featuring pork, chicken, strawberries, shitake mushrooms, pineapple, apples, curry, green onions, carrots, lemon, lime, and mint. Other Watson inventions include Creole Shrimp-Lamb Dumpling, Baltic Apple Pie, Austrian Chocolate Burrito, and Bengali Butternut BBQ Sauce, this last a scrumptious-sounding blend of white wine, butternut squash, rice vinegar, dates, cilantro, tamarind, cardamom, and turmeric, plus such old-time BBQ standbys as molasses, garlic, and mustard.

So, this is weird, right? But will it ever really matter? I doubt it. The art of creating a new dish is a decidedly human endeavor. Even if these recipes sound compelling (I'm frankly not so sure that they do) or taste amazing, there is something about knowing that a computer created them that would probably deflate the experience of making- or eating- one of them.

Maybe that's just me, though. Read the article and decide how you feel about it.

Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, U.S. Soccer Falls Short


The list of improvements that the United States men’s soccer team needs to make is considerable. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann would like to see a more consistent back line, better touch from his midfielders and plenty more production from the attackers.

Yet as Klinsmann and his players begin their World Cup here Monday against Ghana, trickier questions of soccer acumen have come into focus:

Are the Americans bad at playacting? And if so, should they try to get better?

The fact that the Americans, up to this point, have resisted acts of dishonesty on the field makes me proud. I am thoroughly dismayed when I consider what this says about humanity- that lying can make it this far, to become this deeply ingrained into the core of the world's most popular game.

Some of the quotes in this piece suggest that many of the American players- and it's comprehensively international coaching staff- are working to "improve" in this area. While it may be innately unnatural to Americans to dishonestly impact the outcome of a game, it sounds like our guys are dead set on changing.

Perhaps we should look back more fondly on those many decades during which the U.S. Team was totally irrelevant on the international stage? Frankly, I'd rather the American team fall short than to resort to a pattern of lying and deceit to get ahead.

Atomizing A Tragedy

Earlier this month, I linked to James Swift's piece calling into question the way that media covers mass shooting tragedies. Last week, Circa voiced concern and offered transparency regarding their process for trying to cover these types of tragedies responsibly:

When a mass shooting happens, the trend among media outlets has been to cover the event and then shift focus to the sensationalized aspects of the perpetrator. The victims, mourning and any heroes that emerge often become a sidebar as attention turns to the deranged worldview of an unstable person.

The raw tragedy of mass shootings warrant our attention. The perpetrators do not.

Why are so many mass killers’ names known when victims and heroes are forgotten? Why do we salivate over the rantings of a crazed person? We in the media tout our sensibilities, yet rush to help warped individuals accomplish their goal of gaining infamy while ignoring the implications of giving them a platform. We’ve been inadvertently lionizing the wrong people in our coverage.

Even though the writings and images of an unhinged person grab attention, the media has a role in addressing the problem of mass shootings. And that means moving away from some of the elements that may be enticing, but don’t add to the forward progression of a news story. Some types of information provide macabre entertainment at best. At worst, it inspires future rampages by disturbed individuals and an apathy toward the problem in the public sphere.

If you aren't familiar with Circa, get their free app today. They've built an inventive way of gathering news from multiple sources, offering a fantastically efficient way of staying up on current events and shifting storylines.

It's good to see them talking about this issue, perhaps leading the way for some reform.

Is Grilling Bad For You?

I've actually been wondering about this for a long time. I mean, given the fact that we are basically turning our food into charcoal to some extent, it seems like there has to be a link to carcinogens there somewhere.

The bottom line, according to the article:

So we know that PAHs and HCAs exist, and that they could potentially cause cancer—but let’s step back and consider this from all angles. First, the studies that prove them to be carcinogens were conducted on mice. The jury’s still out as to whether they’re harmful to humans. And besides: The amounts of PAHs and HCAs ingested in these laboratory studies were extremely high: We’re talking the equivalent of thousands of times more than an average person would consume.

A little prudence is worthwhile here, too, in light of the fact that it isn’t just grilling that causes carcinogens—essentially, cooking meat at a high temperature through any method (smoking and frying are the next biggest culprits; boiling and roasting aren’t as big offenders) has the same effect.

Bon Appetit has the rest of the story- including some light science behind their findings- on their website.

Amazon's Creepy Shopper Thingy

A couple of takeaways from Amazon's event today, announcing their new phone. First, a quote from Dan Frommer's initial reaction:

image courtesy The Verge

image courtesy The Verge

Details are still rolling in, but Bezos has already made one thing clear: This is a shopping device.

The most interesting feature so far is called Firefly: An image recognition app that can supposedly detect and identify more than 100 million items, ranging from physical products on sale at Amazon—Bezos demonstrated the feature with a Nutella jar, among other products—to songs and phone numbers. The phone has a dedicated Firefly button on its side, meaning that the feature—and your credit card—is always only a tap away.

Then there is the rather odd (and somewhat useless?) feature that employs four user-facing cameras to create a 3-D visual effect.

My favorite response to this feature so far, courtesy of John Moltz:

The entire idea seems a little tone deaf, in light of all the privacy concerns in today's culture. Also, I think they simply could have had a better shot at actually disrupting the smartphone market if they saved all that cash needed to realize this 3-D effect, and just sold the phone for $100 less.

Some people will buy this device, to be sure. But probably not half as many as would have bought it if the price could be dramatically lower.

The Man Who Rescues Sex Slaves


“I’d like to stress that this is like negotiating for slaves. It is very complex and very risky for us. The situation is more complicated with girls. First of all, when we arrive in the camps, the girls are hidden by the commanders. To date, we have successfully released 5,300 children, but fewer than 30 percent of those are girls,” he said, a number which shows how hard it is to free them.

“The most pessimistic research says each soldier keeps a girl between 12 and 16 years of age,” so that means rescue organizations like his are not accessing the vast majority of the girls when they approach militia groups, he said. “Not only do the armed groups not want to release girls, but some of the girls don’t want to go either, for fear of being stigmatized,” he said. “They may have children or be pregnant, or have sexually transmitted diseases. They are scared of going back to their families.”

It's impossible for me to imagine a greater attrocity against humanity than the prolonged physical and sexual abuse of a child. What this man and his organization are doing for the children of The Democratic Republic of Congo is extraordinary.

Sadly, the trafficking of children for sex is a major issue here in this country as well. If you want to learn more about how you can help win the fight against this evil here in Portland, visit doortograce.org.

(via @allanwhite)

Black Garlic, Unveiled

It sounds like Coco Marante and I have something in common: we've both been eyeballing the Black Garlic at Trader Joes for the last few months, wondering (fearing?) what could possibly be inside of that little package.

Like most people, I love garlic when it's prepared properly and applied in humane amounts. But black garlic? Garlic is already such a powerful aromatic ingredient- literally medicinal, to some extent- could a black version be anything but more potent? Black just sort of sounds rotten, to me. You look at the package and see the word "fermented", and it only supports that suspicion. Is it remotely possible that it is something I would like to put in my mouth?

Fortunately for us all, Coco is more curious (and courageous) than I am, and the news is quite positive:

Peeling away the parchment-colored skin reveals glossy, midnight black cloves. They’re solid but soft, easily sliced thinly or blended into a sauce. The garlic has a smooth and silky texture and a mellow flavor, with a tangy note reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. There’s none of the usual sulfurous sting of fresh garlic, so it won’t give you garlic breath, even if you eat a whole clove or two.

This, my friends, is good news. Anything that gives me another, more breath-friendly way of enjoying garlic is a victory for everyone. Be sure to check out thekitchn.com for their suggestions for adding black garlic to your recipes.

Between The Lines

A couple of tech veterans who see the Apple space much more clearly than I do have taken time to reflect on Apple's WWDC Keynote, and what they are seeing is hardware.

First, Chuck Skoda reads the iOS 8 tea leaves and sees a lot of potential connections to an as-yet-unannounced wearable device:

Notification Center widgets however are extending apps beyond the iOS fullscreen experience in a way that feels like a very nice fit for a notification driven device. Developers are being encouraged to fit their apps most critical information and functionality into much smaller constraints than they’re used to dealing with. This seems like an effort that could translate directly or indirectly to extending features to a watch.

On the surface, the tap-to-talk functionality of the Messages app seems like Apple admitting the value from transient messaging apps like Snapchat. However, it’s also a strikingly simple way to send a message from a device that has no keyboard for text input, a valuable feature to have on a watch.

Then David Sparks draws what seems like an obvious connection between Apple's new Metal platform and AppleTV:

What if game developers, using Metal and the next Apple chip could push enough pixels to actually be in the ballpark with existing game systems (or at least close behind) and Apple put it's weight behind a game controller? These things seemed inconceivable until last week's Keynote but now I've got to wonder. Maybe the push for Metal was more about the AppleTV than iOS.

Any pundits or fans who came away from the WWDC Keynote lamenting the absence of hardware announcements are (a) spoiled brats, and (b) likely missing the bigger picture.

According to these two gents, exciting hardware revelations were all over WWDC- you just had to know where to look.

It's Not About The Guns

James Swift over at Thought Catalogue has some solicitous words for the media, regarding what he believes to be the real reason for the increase in mass shootings in recent years:

The importance that the media bestows upon mass killers, even posthumously, is why these mass shootings take place. An entire culture of death has arisen from the media complex’s morbid, sensationalistic celebration of mass murder, and mass killers such as Adam Lanza (the Ron Paul-worshiping, Bill Cosby-loving, committed vegan and probable pedophile he was) have begun literally gunning for “top score” when it comes to body count. The more people you kill, the media tells us, the more we’ll talk about you, the killer.

You don’t often hear about the victims of mass shootings in the media, nor do you hear about the true heroes that thwarted the killers from murdering even greater numbers than they already did. The media heaps all of its coverage on the life-taker and pays just superficial acknowledgement to the lives lost in such tragedies.

If we as a culture TRULY wanted to curb the number of mass shooting incidents that take place in America, we wouldn’t be pressing Congress for gun-law changes or mental-health funding alterations or video-game bans. Instead, we’d be pressing Congress to prevent the media from reading the names or showing the faces of the murderers who commit such heinous acts of violence on air or in print.

Swift's conclusion makes a lot of sense to me. While I tend to think that our culture's sliding moral scale has had the largest impact on why people are finding themselves with the urge to kill, I have to agree that the media coverage could be the primary reason that these deranged people are turning to mass murder as the outlet for their rage.

There have been 74 shootings in this country since the December 2012 tragedy in Newtown, CT. A story from Washington Post includes the the map shown above.