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On Tech: a microscopic screen & a gigantic one

Time will tell whether yesterday’s Apple announcements were a positive for the company or not. On the surface, The Apple watch feels like we beamed back into James T. Kirk’s Star Trek (the 60s TV show). The iPhone 6 Plus along with Tim Cook’s statement that “it’s better than an Android phone in every way,” feels like Apple chasing its own tail.

What I wanted was for the “iWatch” to enable more of a connected ecosystem, but I’m not sure if I needed a watch to really come with that. That Apple did release something that looks like generation 1 (a premature statement based on looking at a tiny touchscreen and hearing bad things about the unmentioned battery life), and that it had to up itself in terms of the iPhone, feels like a desire to stay tangibly relevant, to still remain the device in everybody’s pocket or on every wrist.

It’s unfortunate to write this before seeing either device in person, which is my own need to stay relevant (as it is every journalist’s that attended the event), because I know that I’m probably somewhat wrong and presumptuous about it. I didn’t know how either the 5s or the iPad (Mini) would feel, and I’m incredibly happy with both.

I am also presumptuous, I’m sure, about the other functionalities that the iPhone, Apple Watch, and Apple software will enable. The reason is different however, because it requires for an ecosystem to to be in place that works just as well as Apple’s hardware and software is integrated. It also usually requires a high investment in adjacent devices and a rollout that’s not just in a few countries. We are not yet there today, so what is there to review, just to hope for the best? Apple Pay certainly sounds promising, as do the health functions of the Apple Watch, even though I can already replicate many of those in software. The connection in the home is what will be an interesting new challenge.

More to come in the form of hands-on experience and science fiction expectations.

On Tech: iEnabler 3 – logical conclusions of what the iWatch will be

It becomes increasingly difficult to write about the “iWatch,” as there are rumors abound, speculations about the design, the price point, and it’s battery life. There doesn’t seem to be much thought about the added value of such a device however, and I really don’t believe that it is meant to replace the functionality of an iPhone or iPod.

The key issue seems to be centered around battery life, as no one wants a device that they have to charge once or multiple times a day. Equally, the size factor does not suggest much visual “touch screen like” functionality, meaning there has to be another appeal to it. These two together seem to suggest to me that we have to look at functionality that is both cool (in the Apple way) and consumes little energy.

The obvious leads that we have for this are homekit and healthkit, neither of which require much of a screen, instead relying more on sensors and connectivity. We know that sensors for mobility, built into the iPhone 5s M7 chip, are energy friendly, and I assume others will be too.

On the other hand, the only energy-saving connectivity technology seems to be Bluetooth LE, with cellular data being blamed as the major culprit for diminished battery life on the iPhone. With Bluetooth LE also comes Beacon technology, allowing for homekit-based interactions, so it looks like this area is covered too in terms of energy friendly connected functionality.

This just leaves the screen as an energy hog and somehow I see Apple as sacrificing this to make it a better device. So what I believe we will have is the following:

  • A slick watch, the kind you pay $500+ for.
  • Both a for-men and a for-women version, with hipper, cheaper versions to follow.
  • I would bet on it being analog in the design and aesthetic.
  • Powerful* health sensors inside (*: what is powerful though, it won’t read your blood sugar level, I guess).
  • Bluetooth LE inside.
  • Priced between $399 and $699.

The cool part being everything outside of the watch: health data, mobile payments, interaction with other devices. Launching Apple into new growth areas: devices for fashion, health, payments, and more.

This last part suggests a third or fourth product line (next to the Apple TV. Or even a fifth next to Beats), and a different naming convention altogether. A wearable line that integrates with fashion.

In conclusion, what I envisioned to be a mobile hotspot, one device to connect them all on the road, was perhaps too geeky? To limited in looking at the potential. There is so much activity around this “iWatch” concept now, the latest of which is the hiring of (watch) designer Marc Newson, which makes this quite of an open ballpark, in terms of what will be announced in just a few days.

Will it be a game changer? Clearly Apple thinks so with all of its acquisitions and new hires. Is it a big gamble? I don’t know enough about the dynamics of this new world Apple is entering into to say. I do know that fashion is a fickle and fast moving beast, but so is tech, and that brands do have staying power, as long as they innovate and deliver what its core constituents want. From Apple, we want the very best, and do far they have always delivered.

On Tech: The iEnabler 2

Let’s take my last middle-of-the-night idea to the daylight, i.e. would there be a spot for it logically? My stance is that the main value added for a wearable device is as an enabler for other functionality to happen. The size is too restrictive for it to have many more functions than, let’s say, a watch with some added notification features. But could it be a hotspot for other devices, such as an iPad, iPod, and the Mac, as well as possibly act as a “beacon” of sorts to open other doors, for lack of a better term?

What I essentially see it as a Swatch watch, showing very little extra on screen to the actual time function, but under the hood having space for a mobile simcard, wifi and/or bluetooth, and a battery that actually functions like a normal long-lasting Watch battery. A possible added feature would be for it to have an integrated phone , but I personally don’t find it a comfortable position to hold my watch to my ear.

The question is whether people would buy it with those features (minus the phone)? If you look at the base cost for the iPhone 5s ($199 with a retail price of $849) and the cost of the iPod Nano ($45 with a retail price of $149), there must be space in the middle there for a “watch” that costs maybe $100 and retails for $300. This is a good price for a semi-luxury watch! Any additional smart and health-tracking function are added benefits that increase the value.

Of course, I don’t know what it will be and frankly I would expect more leaks about parts for this from Apple’s supplier around the world, which are not really happening for any devices other than the iPhone and iPad. So whether all of this will happen, I don’t know, but for this, I believe there is a place for it in Apple’s line-up and in the market.


On Tech: the iEnabler

Note: This came to me in the middle of the night, so I apologize in advance if it doesn’t make perfect sense.

The iPad mini is pretty much the perfect iPad. I’m sure you’re heard that before, but it’s just a nicely shaped (size & weight) reading, gaming, and viewing experience (I have not really typed on it, I am writing this post on an iPhone 5s).

We are about to visit my girlfriend’s father, who is the proud owner of an iPhone 3G, which he was conned into by Orange, his phone provider, in 2012. I’m sure he would love the mini over the 3G, but his first question will be: can I do with it what I do with my phone? And my answer will sadly be: no.

Then I thought about the positioning of a future iWearable device. It’s small and will have little value as an iPod or iPad. But how about a hotspot of sorts? How would it be if it simply transmitted a signal to other devices, along with basic watch functionalities? It would, of course, be able to open doors and unlock your Mac, but what about bringing in a mobile wireless signal to my girlfriend’s dad’s iPad mini?

His generation is of course the perfect audience for a watch, as is anyone that ever wore one in their lives. That generation with their fat fingers and bad eyes (sorry oldies), would both love a watch and a big screen. They would love to call heir relatives on the bigs screen and… perhaps… on their watch?

What if the iWearable had basic functionalities like weather and notifications (non-vibrating please!) and could be held to your ear for an incoming call? What if it no longer requires a mobile chip to be inserted into the iPad or iPhone for that matter (the iPod touch, basically), and its price is covered by the premium iPod & iPad owners have to pay for that functionality to be built in?

I can see a couple of positioning problems, but also plenty of wins for Apple. The separating of cost to consumer is one. An iPhone or iPad with a mobile chip is pretty expensive. An iPad or iPod touch without it isn’t. That expense was often covered by mobile contracts, which have generously subsidized the device cost, but competitive pressures of cheap devices are pushing down margins for everyone. What if this subsidy would only need to cover the iWearable (100-300 euro/dollars) and the other 200-400 was the bigger device, covered by consumers themselves? What if this device also allowed for thinner iPads and iPhones with longer battery lives?

An iWearable will always have limitations, but any Apple device should do one thing very well. To me it seems that being a hotspot could be that One More Thing(tm). Well, let’s see if Gruber has anything to say about it.

火 “Ditch the 10,000 hour rule! Why Malcolm Gladwell’s famous advice falls short”

For background reading, here’s an article about it. While I think that Malcolm Gladwell’s advice is taken somewhat superficially, I don’t think it’s easy to disprove at all. What is practice? In life, you have something called “transferrable skills” that you can apply across jobs (this is actually always the case, however employers don’t like the term). The employee’s knowledge is broadened, enabling him or her to deal with changing and evolving demands of a task.

In muscle exercise, the best exercises are those that combine supporting and contracting strength (for a lack of a better term) to strengthen the overall area. In other words, push-ups do not only depend on pectoral strength, but also from a strong core, strong triceps, etc. I can’t imagine the brain working any different. Just recently, a study found that teaching kids music improves their concentration skills for other learning, which is a great initiative being applied to empoverished areas in the USA with low scholastic grades.

So how does the example used in the article disprove Gladwell’s statement? It doesn’t. It’s a simple high intensity interval training (HIIT), tricking the body into hitting a higher performance level. There’s sometimes this understanding about human performance that it is always on certain level. When we look at the athletes, do we think that they always operate on the same level? No, there’s such a thing as peak and rest, and it’s the athlete’s job to manage both. The public just gets to see the public performance, which probably lies around the peak.

It’s a bit of a stupid article really and I’m sorry to point toward it. The basic point that practice makes perfect is still in place, but the definition of practice must be broadened to be contextual the target.


On Technology: Cry Developer, Cry

There’s a new discussion out around revenues for independent app developers. I jumped into it via and have a few minor points to make  below these quotes. The two apps that stood out to me in the discussion (though there are many viewpoints (not many perspectives) listed in Marco’s post) are Unread, an RSS reader, and Overcast, which I recently reviewed and am still using as my primary Podcatcher.

For Unread, its developer Jared Sinclair writes:

Unread for iPhone has earned a total of $32K in App Store sales. Unread for iPad has earned $10K. After subtracting 40 percent in self-employment taxes and $350/month for health care premiums (times 12 months), the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is:

$21,000, or $1,750/month

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure. I try not to think about the salary I could earn if I worked for another company, with my skills and qualifications. It’s also a solid piece of evidence that shows that paid-up-front app sales are not a sustainable way to make money on the App Store.

He’s right, that is depressing, though I have some notes about it in a short while.

For Overcast, Marco writes:

It’s too early to know, but I doubt Overcast will have the financial success that Instapaper did. Instapaper rode the App Store boom because it was in the right place, at the right time, solving the right need — and Instapaper 1.0 only took three months to develop, even as my first Objective-C app and with the relatively primitive iPhone OS 2.0 SDK. Overcast has taken over a year of work to make a 1.0 that could be competitive in a much more crowded and narrower market, and there’s still a lot I need to do.


Efficiency is key. And efficiency means doing more (or all) of the work yourself, writing a lot less custom code and UI, dropping support for older OSes, and providing less customer support.

On Efficiency, Benjamin Mayo also has a few telling words:

You have to be efficient with your time to make good ROI’s on the App Store. … If you want to maximise your profitability, make small apps that do a few things well. The amount of effort you put into an app has very little to do with how much of the market will buy it.

After all of these smart viewpoints (not necessarily different perspectives), here’s my view about it. All of these are individual cases highlighted by some pretty prominent independent developers. They are not by themselves a commentary on app development, except that people can learn from that and perhaps do things different.

Yes, efficiency is important, but lean development and management only goes so far, at some point spending money creates money and saving money results in lost opportunities. In any kind of development, software or other, you really always have two choices: you focus on small and repetitive or you focus on large and bombastic.

The first, I would call the franchise model. You build a model that you can replicate, whether it’s Starbucks, website development, or app development. Starbucks is just a wire-frame, lacking in atmosphere (somewhat) and you repeat in on every corner in every city. That means many small revenue streams that together add up to a lot. This is the so-called ‘efficiency’ mentioned in Marco’s and other’s posts.

The second is what I would call radically innovative or hard to replicate innovative products. It requires unique resources and perhaps a unique market to exist and gives both a tremendous advantage and represents a tremendous risk, because it often requires a singular focus and not a risk-reducing portfolio approach. Examples of these are rare, because those that we know have essentially already been mass-produced and probably have many competitors (iPhone, Toyota Prius, etc.).

Taking Overcast, I last wrote that I was impressed with the production quality of the app and I consider Marco an innovative developer. He also dedicated over a year to the development of Overcast, which I understand is a very long time relatively speaking. Is his market unique, no, and that will without a doubt reduce the ROI of his investment.

The same for Unread, which is an RSS readers in a market busy with RSS readers since Google Reader shut down. Is it innovative? I understand it to have a clean, minimalist reading interface (which is part of a trend in all things readers). But that does differentiate it from other readers, though every app should technically have differences with competing apps. As sorry, as I am to say it, because every developer loves their app the most, I think this falls more into the franchise model of apps.

There is the matter of unique resources, which are important in differentiation. Every developer has their unique skill-set and perhaps not unique access to resources. Apple opens up its development platform to the public, so technically everyone works with the same tools. I don’t know what Jared Sinclair’s background is and I sort of know Marco Arment’s pedigree prior to this app. I believe that programming and design can be unique, as can functionality, so it should be possible to create differentiated apps on the app store. At the same time, the universal access also facilitates the franchise system, allowing for ease of replication and lot’s of smaller revenue streams.

The general point is that while people may cry about the app store being to populated, this is a universal truth for most markets. There was a time where America had a gold rush, where gold diggers came to a river and fished gold out with their hands. Then more came and gold became sparser. So innovators focused on new technologies or new markets and got rich there. There’s nothing different here, except that the iPad / iPhone technology and OS is not mature yet, and that should still represent new possible functionalities for new development.

火 – On Publishing: “Who, Exactly, Is Fueling the Vinyl-Records Renaissance?”

According to the Atlantic, it’s nostalgics. The article also briefly discusses what small part records play in the overall revenues currently collected by the music industry. At 3.3% annual decline, it’s not so bad.

I have to say, obviously there’s a nostalgia element to records. Who, except someone that has handled those large black vinyl discs in their past/childhood, would be open to doing so again. Playing records is a pain, involving the frequent getting up to switch from Side A to, possibly (for a large track list), Side D. But it also reminds me of a time when albums mattered. It doesn’t sound better, but it feels more special than an endless Spotify playlist.

I do think that all if this is an interesting analogy to book publishing in that consumers are essentially confronted with a similar situations (the endless www vs. paper books), and you have to wonder how that will continue to play out as well.

Link = 火

I’ve spent a short while searching for a symbol to represent links on this blog, vs. original content. I decided upon , which means “Light” in Japanese.

Two reasons: it’s a single symbol, the Japanese word “Link” is not. And I generally like Japanese culture, at least the creative elements of it. Light seemed fitting, as I’m trying to throw a light on content.

It’s also kind of a funny symbol 🙂

On Publishing: (Strategy) Thoughts about the Industry

An interesting blog post from Charlie Stross published a few days ago:. A lot of things resonated with me:

  • the need and challenge to foster talent over multiple years if not decades, vs. all other pressures
  • the opportunity cost between reading and various forms of (new) media ~ the ‘attention economy’
  • Amazon’s picking on an industry in distress

From everything that I’ve learned these last few years about publishing, as well as the evolution of industries and markets in general, all of this rings true and is really completely natural to happen over a longer period of time. Publishing has been around for a long time, we are talking centuries, and it’s surprising that the end-product has pretty much been unchanged. Production and distribution have changed, but the positioning (for lack of a better term) hasn’t. Books remain a collection of pages that require us to sit down and read them for a significant amount of time. There has been a shift of positioning in the sense of authority-based products to entertainment-based ones and a mix of both, but that’s it.

Since books are an intellectual product, it’s unusual to say the least. Take physical products like shoes or walking sticks (terrible examples, sorry), these you would expect to remain pretty much the same over time. We continue to have feet and people continue to have to lean on walking sticks in similar ways. But books are consumed by people that have changed significantly.

Gender equality of the workforce and decreased social welfare has caused a shorter time-span for concentrated consumption. New media has changed the choices in consumption to shorter, more passive, or more interactive. In other words, we can read tweets, watch/listen to content, and play/modify content. It shouldn’t be ignored that the Internet has also given rise to the easy creation of content, which, for me at least, represents a significant opportunity cost to consuming it.

If all of that weren’t enough,  when a player like Amazon shows up and wants to optimize the whole process, it creates incredible pressure on the traditional model with a lot of quality-related overhead. But as much strategic thinking has suggested over the last half a century, a lack of change, a commoditization of products and services creates opportunities for disruption.

In a fair world without back-room political-business deals, the only answer is to change the game. Many publishers are doing this, by focussing on added values like data-mining to create knowledge-supported decision-making tools. Others, but not many, go into cross-media production (think books-movies-games). The sad truth is, as Charlie Stross points out, is that there will always be a market for books and thus the services around it, but that demand is inelastic with little chance of growth. I know that there is more value to be had for a doctor to have an AI supporting his brain than to read a book and I do believe that we can safely evolve from books in the professional support arena. Is it better to watch ‘Of Mice and Men’ or ‘1984’ as a movie than read a book? Is it better to play DEVICE 6 than read a book? Those are the questions that we are faced with and may decide the direction of the industry in the near future.

As a producer, I have great fears about jumping into writing full-time, except that I have to keep reminding myself that it’s just a medium that allows for endless products. A writer can just as much envision a book, as (s)he can a movie, let alone an invention or a company. Writing coherent stories is one thing, the possibilities that come out of it are endless. I love publishing, I love books, and I will continue to do my best to produce my first and see what’s next. But just like everything I described above is part of a great journey, so is my or anyone else’s writing. Sorry to finish on that philosophical note, but that’s where I’m at at this time of night.

On Business: What the Beats acquisition tells me about Tim Cook’s leadership style

When Tim Cook took over the reigns from Apple, we were all afraid of the consequences. Was this golden horse that seemed to poop gold going to turn into something more mundane, we all wondered? There’s nothing worse than regular horse poop, I can attest, being surrounded by horse police in the Netherlands that seem to serve no other function than that. But back to Apple.

Apple survived. As Steve Job’s bio read, there was a five-year plan and Apple had lots of products in its pipeline. The problem turned out to be that this and Time Cook’s assurances (“It’s all cool, guys.”) was all we heard for a long while. Yes iOS 7 turned out well, the iPhone 5 and 5s were good, the 5c less so. What else that was new in Apple land, we all wondered? Was it just going to be incremental from now on?

Don’t get me wrong. Incremental innovation is just good business. You build on capabilities you already developed and you increase your margins. But no matter what the Apple pundits say, I think that we all feel like something new has to happen. A next new wave for Apple. A new product launch.

I can’t and won’t tell you what that is. We’ve all heard the rumors, which are as bad as spoiling a great movie. The nicest new thing is the one that you aren’t expecting and right now we’ve heard too much to not expect a lot. That’s bad for us and bad for Apple. It’s like overpraising a new movie coming out and going in with expectations that are too high.

Back to Cook. Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. He can never be. But Tim Cook is Apple and part of what made it be a mainstream technology on every country. Tim Cook is the man that made Apple a giant corporation, long before Steve Jobs passed.

Where the gap lies is the role that Steve Jobs had as this stubborn leader that thought far into the future. I’m not a leadership expert and much has already been written about the magic of Steve, something that never feels complete, but perhaps provides many parts of the puzzle of that man.

When Tim Cook took over, he also had to make sure that the visionary part remained in the management team responsible for the present and future of Apple. The first contender for this was … his name escapes me… the guy responsible for making everything on iOS look like cloth and paper (Scott Forstall). He left and Sir Johnny Ive took over hardware and software, which seems like a great decision. Ive was engrained into Apple just as much as Cook was, just in the area of industrial design. His software chops were established with iOS 7, I feel. Both make a great team to run Apple going forward.

But is that enough? We have a smooth operation (Cook) and technology chops (Ive), but Steve Job’s DNA also had something I would just call outspoken stubbornness. There was an interview with Ive around the time that Jobs passed away, where he described the experience of going to a hotel with Steve. Johnny would go to the room, not unpack and wait for the expected call from Steve that this hotel sucked and they would switch. Would Cook ever have such an experience with Johnny Ive? I don’t know.

Jobs was also unafraid to make sweeping changes, in a way that I don’t think Cook is. I found the announcement about the Beats team joint Apple telling. Cook isn’t taking any risks, both hardware and Beats Music fall into specific leadership segments within Apple, under Eddy Cue (iTunes) and Beats Electronics under Phil Schiller (marketing). Both of these people are undoubtedly capable, but it also suggests that … what… Beats products are now Apple products. It also is very corporate in its feel, a division of labour, a hierarchy.

When I watched the Jimmy Iovine interview on Recode recently, some things struck me about him. He has great personality, a visionary that wants to keep moving forward, roots in music engineering, and a great network/reach in the music business, as well as the ability to connect with music lovers. He is pure music and thus makes for a great fit with the space that iTunes currently occupies within Apple.

The company is clearly huge, bigger than Beats if course but also bigger than Burberry as the hiring of the CEO Angela Ahrends to a director position attests. She is also an interesting personality that built a direct connection to Burberry’s customers through the store model in the last 8 years, and a perfect match for taking Apple retail to the next level.

Tim Cook’s Apple is in refinement mode, which is great for Apple’s core strength and reputation for building reliable products. We are all still waiting for that spark and I’m very curious who it’s champion will be, as I do believe great innovation requires a visionary that can span boundaries and the great challenges that come with that.

On Writing: External Influences on Storytelling

Inspirations for this post: I was reading an article about making games in a ******** up world (yes, that is the title), and wanted to not write so much about game development specifically, rather about the telling of stories and how this is affected by the world around us. I also read a recent interview with George R.R. Martin in Rolling Stone magazine, which says a lot about his influences for writing Game of Thrones. Particularly,’s quote from the article is telling.

Writers, essentially all humans, are influenced by the world around them. These can be events that are internal to their personal circle of friends, family, and work, or external events that affect a larger group of people, if not the planet. The first linked-to article brings forth some good examples, such as global warming, Arab Spring, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. And these are just “events” (if global warming can be classified as such) that have arisen in the last decade. Prior to this: The housing crisis, 9-11, the Balkan wars, the Cold War, numerous terrorist events, the Vietnam War, World War 2, and the list of course goes on.

The theory goes (not my theory) that each of these world events inspires a new wave of thematic story-telling. The interesting part is that this can be stories that are negatively focussed and others that are very positive. On the negative side you have dystopian stories and I would classify vampire stories into that. On the positive side you have super heroes and Star Trek (genetic engineering and evolved societies).

My interpretation for this contrast is an author’s perception about resource utilization. A story like Star Trek assumes a universe with infinite resources. The other stories assume finite resources and an eternal imbalance.  A small usage of energy will consume less resources but also be restricted to those finite resources that are nearby. A larger usage of energy will provide access to a greater scope of resources, but also consume more of them. So the balance will always be somewhat disrupted.

With finite resources, the question is two-fold: can we reduce our consumption of traditional or can we find new more efficient resources to consume. The reduction of resources is connected to the vision of “what if we don’t,” i.e. the end of the world. The finding or development of new resources is connected to stories like genetically engineered humans (super-heroes) coming out of a lab.

The human mind is of course dualistic (at the very least) and has the tremendous power to always bring up contrarian thought. A new intelligence can become The Terminator and cause the end of the world. A genetic evolution can result in vampires. The end of the world can become the beginning of another. This cyclicality is something we know from history and from nature and the belief that everything ends or dies is always accompanied with something else beginning or being born.

This of course views the process of story creation as always being influenced and not necessarily as influencing. But we also know that stories also inform and influence. I tend to focus on science fiction because it most closely related to technology and innovation (my field of passion) and I see scientists and engineers inventing many things that were first imagined in science fiction stories. I also see a reactionist piece of fiction being part of the process of working through a problem. Or to describe it differently, it’s the exploratory stage of solving an identified problem.


Once again, another reason to write, because it’s essentially about thinking through problems where there may not be an immediate solution, but it may very well fit into the overall process of problem solving.

So, while I love story universes like Star Trek and want to see more of them, you can perhaps see why I’m more drawn to the other kind of story telling that focusses on a prescient problem. I believe that many of the problems we face today is due to an over-mining of the planet. More people, more consumption, more pollution (and war!), more problems. The answers are what we as a society are struggling with. Is it external, Space Ship One type ventures that allow us to expand “affordably” beyond our suffering planet? Is it internal, meaning new types of fuel, new types of food, new types of [fill in the gap]? What I’m pretty doubtful being the answer is increasing human lifespan or building autonomous robots, though both could contribute to other solutions. Science fiction is an exciting field because it does work within the realm of trying to answer these questions, if not always based on the arduous work of engineers and scientists, but perhaps opening their minds to explore other new directions, not based on previous tried and tested means.

On Movies: Why do Remakes not work out?

Having just walked out of (The Amazing) Spider-Man 2… again, I felt like writing a little about the general problems in that story and how, I speculate, they came to be. THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS SPOILERS! 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like the Spider-Man 3 of just a few years ago. It’s overloaded with bad guys that lack any kind of real motivation of why they are bad. The funny thing is that this applies to every bad guy in the movie: Harry Osborn, Electro, Rhino. OK, Rhino was in this movie for 4 seconds so that doesn’t count. But both Electro and Harry Osborn were there throughout.

Harry Osborn’s motivation was a little more fleshed out, but only by association. His father suffered from a hereditary deadly disease, so Harry is scared and wants a cure. He’s willing to do anything to get it. But there is little about him that we know of. He was sent to boarding school when he was 10, he was Peter’s best friend as a child, he’s back and he’s sick. It feels a little light, only to provide a wallet to drive the action forward.

Electro’s motivation cannot even fill a paragraph. He’s a nutty professor that invented the electric grid the city runs on. Spider-man saves him once and tells him he’s important. Ever since then, he’s infatuated with this hero until he gets into an accidents that turns him into a monster. Spider-man confronts him and this infatuation turns into blind hate.

We also witness the doomed romance between Gwen Stacy and Spider-Man. Did it feel real? I suppose in as far as love is not rational, yes. Do people in love want to protect each other, break up, want to leave to another continent, then get back together? Yes. Do they mourn the other’s passing and then remember that love is timeless and empowering? Yes. Does Spider-Man go through some kind of evolution in that realisation? No really.

I’d rather rewrite this story than criticise it, to be honest. But I also wonder with all the talent in and behind this movie, why did it have to be so bad? The cynical movie-watcher will say: it’s simply a vehicle for product placement. Leave your brain at the door. I think it’s due to many factors and the most telling one is that Sony remade this story a mere half a decade after it was told. The pressure to make a franchise is so overwhelming that it wanted to present a bang, followed another, and another (action, drama, bad guy, bad guy, bad guy, bad…). It wasn’t an original story in the first placed, but what it lacked most was authenticity, something fresh that could’ve made it interesting.

I wasted 2 hours + the ticket on this movie. I recommend that you won’t do the same.

In Books: The Lost City of Z

Written by David Grann, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, this can be classified as a book that is not quite aimed at the mainstream. I liked it because it describes a period in anthropology that was still filled with mystery and adventure, Indiana Jones style. I’m a sucker for those movies, which in itself integrates a lot of the various adventure myths and tales of that era.

It’s been about three years since I read the book, but it still fills a place of esteem in my bookshelf for being a relatively unique tale about a man-made mystery, something there’s not enough of. I was reminded of it again through the many discussions about flight 370, with many people expressing shock that ‘in this day and age’ we can’t find a plane. This is a human tragedy of course, with many relatives and friends not being able to find closure about what happened to the passengers.

A mystery usually comes accompanied by plenty of tragedy. The Lost City of Z describes the many attempts of archaeologist-explorer Percy Fawcett, who (spoiler for real life) disappears on his quest for this mystical city hidden in the Amazonian jungle. It describes not only Fawcett’s attempts to fund his mission, his reasons for believing this city exists, the changes in anthropological exploration that became much more science-based (as opposed to travelling to a pin on a map), and what actually happened after he disappeared. The public perception of Percy can probably best be described as that of a ‘mad scientist’ in pursuit of an impossible dream (the best ones are) and if it wasn’t for this book, surely his name would have been forgotten. I’m glad this book exists for that reason as well.

We do live in an age where there’s no space for mystery anymore. It sometimes feels that the only unexplored realms are outer space, deep sea, and the human mind. Perhaps to some extent the possibilities of technology and science creating new life. But something like a city in a jungle, hidden for centuries? That’s something for the fairytales.

That’s why it was nice to read a true such tale for once.

In Books: The Old Man and the Sea

A few years ago, I started watching old black & white movies. The reason was that they felt like a window into a time no longer here. Or a time that is connected to today, yet rougher, different. I forgot the exact movie that started it, but it was a 1930 movie about a criminal. Somehow, in mid-2005 perhaps, I felt like finding out how today’s recession related to the infamous Great Depression. All I remember from that movie is not well-tailored suits.

All this to say is that what we consume in terms of books and movies connects us somehow to the mindset that resulted in that creation of that piece of media. This piece that I’m writing is not really about Hemingway’s book, though I greatly value the way it was written. It feels nearly Japanese in its minimalism, an appreciation of fishing. I do agree with one one piece of critique published in the New York Times in 1952: when Hemingway writes about the fisherman’s philosophical thoughts, he really expresses his own, which diminishes the character in the book. But it doesn’t take you out of the story, which feels like the origin of The Life of ∏ and countless other stories that deal with a (hu)man, a boat, and the sea.

The reason I read The Old Man was to read the work of a craftsman. I will probably not read much else of Hemingway’s work, but it’s good to know what makes this writer so appreciated. It’s completely different from other writers, yet somehow feels at the foundation of the craft of English writing.

Next up, Tolstoy.

On Writing: Understanding the purpose of narrative and fiction

Imagine life as a big problem that can be solved. It doesn’t matter whether you’re scaling a wall with a hook and a rope, preparing this planet to migrate out into the universe, or figuring out how to raise your child the right way. Everything is composed of microscopic decisions, that can or cannot have a great impact. Everything is also affected by variables, things that change independently or dependently of your actions, that influence the outcome. Call it luck, call it gravity, call it politics; physical, meta-physical, and group dynamics tend to affect how easy we get somewhere.

We have perfect visions out there for what we want to do: I call it fiction, which is not to demean it, rather they lay down a larger target for us to aim for. We have imperfect visions, the examples of others, which themselves are affected by variables and decisions that are not found in every situation. Their reality is past, the fictional reality is what we imagine what can be achieved.

Take Jules Verne’s or Hergé ‘s stories about rockets going into space, which are some of the precursors to us actually going into space. Take the movie The Terminator, or Avatar, both of which paint frightening visions of a certain future (machines taking over, mankind destroying nature), as well as the promise of people rising up to the challenge. In similar fashion, take Schindler’s List or Anne Frank’s Diary as a warning and reminder that we are all precious. The list is literarily endless.

If fiction serves a purpose, so does narrative. When I look at a route that I want to climb, I think about step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. And then, I climb it that way. It’s better than not thinking or looking at all and then getting stuck. A more literal analogy is writing a chapter in a book. You can write without purpose and while it may be a nice chapter, it may not fit the logic of the story or have repercussions down the line. Planning and outlining is perhaps less artful, but the words can flow just as well with that, if not more quickly because you don’t have to do both at the same time.

Narrative is the way that we do things, fiction is what we aim for. When I write business plans or manage projects, it works in exactly the same way. We choose to believe in an ideal outcome (the fiction that we try to non-fictionalise), we invent and follow a series of steps that get us to that point (or at least get the ball rolling so that we move away from the non-ideal).

We tend to not see the forrest through the trees, but everything contributes, balances, disrupts, and destroys until we reach a new point. But we are not all that’s out there either, if you tend to see earth as an organism in the jungle that is the universe. It’s all just a series of attempts in that game called “survival of the fittest.”

With this cynical viewpoint that no single thing matters all that much in the greater fabric of things, it’s important to reinforce that idea of fiction (goals) and narrative (plans) serving a greater point. They give meaning to what we do, make us aim higher and think about what we do and how we do. They cause accidental and deliberate discoveries like nuclear energy (and weapons) and computers. The simple process of getting out of bed to do something, results in so many unexpected things that probably the most valuable thing that we can do in this world is to tell interesting and enriching stories to make us get out of bed.

And that is why I write.

On Writing: Karma & Finishing

I promised myself a thought piece a week, falling a little behind on those. This is going to be a lot about Karma, a little about Finishing, and how it connects to Writing.

Karma is that you get what you give. Karma is the idea that all actions have reactions and all outcomes could have been different depending on the choice that you make. Karma works with a delay, I like to think; it hits you next week or when you die surrounded by loved ones or alone.

Karma is stabbing your co-workers in the back because you thought it would get you out of the hole you were in and ending up in a cubicle in New York, in debt and alone. Karma is doing things quickly, badly, and dishonestly, and building up a reputation for all of these things. Karma is your father being a gambler and you taking a gamble to not be like him, but falling deeper or rising higher than ever expected (gambles can be good as well).

Karma is saving on employee benefits, having a demotivated workforce, and giving bad service to your customers. Karma is the opposite if you do the opposite. Karma is the most important lesson in life and in management.

Karma is not irreversible. It can hit you in the face and help you to change. Karma can also deceive, make cocky, and bring forth negative karma. Karma and human nature are intertwined, a helix of emotions fueling actions, actions fueling emotions.

I used some weird examples in this piece, they were part fictional, part dramatised. I like to believe that Karma is a real thing, though for every one yay-sayer, you’ll find five nays. It doesn’t matter what you believe or what you call this interplay between actions and outcomes, both positive and negative. What does matter is that every action you do has an outcome, every choice has a consequence.

Finishing is the process of completing an action or a series of actions that lead to the outcome. It should be an obvious point, but since a lot of people abandon what they started, including real people (that write) an characters in stories, it can make things fuzzy and frustrating. It’s perhaps not directly related to Karma (though everything is) and I choose to believe that not finishing = bad Karma.

Playing with the idea of Karma matters a great deal to writers. It allows you to categorise what happens next to the character that you are inventing. If every decision matters, from the amount of sugar you put in your coffee, to the number of coins you drop in a beggar’s hand, then you can imagine a future for your character.

That’s all I felt I needed to say about that. 

In gadgets: Remembering Sony Walkman

In terms of “Gadget Porn” (yes, such a thing exists), the Sony Walkman perhaps doesn’t pass the test of an ageless object. But it’s an incredibly nostalgic device to anyone growing up in the 80s and early 90s, and it remains an important piece of consumer electronic history. Sony, which had a blockbuster with portable radios, then portable TVs (if memory serves), then walkman, diskman, and then … fade to black (I guess the playstation counts). Little known fact is that I worked for Sony around the year 2000, because I was so fascinated with the company. But just then many things changed and it took the company years to make a comeback, but not even close to the iconic status it had up to the late 90s.

Enjoy the pictures of the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 on Minimally Minimal, the inspiration for this short paragraph.


On Management: Volatility & measurement

I’m struggling to put more complex thoughts on paper these days. Short reviews and fiction (not published) is where it flows. I suppose that this struggle relates somewhat to the topic I’m about to write about today: how volatility gets in the way of measurement and the purpose of both.

Volatility is living, you could say. Living cells move, dead cells are for scientists to study long after they lived. For every 10 people, you will find a fair proportion that believes this to be true for many aspects in life, from work to relationships. Movement is also rewarded by the stock market, movement in people makes them seem more energetic and allows them to get further in life.

Measurement is death, you could say. Stop, cell, I can’t measure you unless you’re frozen in place. Same for you my dear employee. Will we ever be able to measure the magic of Apple or Pixar unless they are a part of history, no longer in motion?

So why bring it up then? Back in my 1st of year of study, a demotivating professor told us that the science of management is more about preserving the status quo than encouraging change. Managers, supposedly, keep things stable in order to produce colourful charts and reports that impress their overlords and shareholders. You could nearly say that measurement is their reason to be.

I don’t buy that at all, but I do see a strong need for accountability, which is a need to show results. But the best results do come from growth, lot’s of it, and the only way to accomplish that is to not let measurement get in the way of growth.

I can suggest lot’s of ways to accomplish this:

  • Stay lean: by consuming less resources for growth, you’re not as accountable for your cost as when you spend a lot on it
  • Work with collaborative systems that collect these metrics automatically
  • Related: make collaboration efficient, which you accomplish through measuring communication flows. Establish protocols that decrease routine communication that is unnecessary.
  • Related: allow for organic and human activity. Getting in the way of natural progress is wrong, making it unnatural creates a mess, taking humanity away decreases motivation.
  • Measure the right things but no more
  • Reward the right things and if possible more


In Music: Records fight the digital age with Sleevefaces

I found this on Facebook: a collection of Sleevefaces, 1970s answer to the Selfie. I’m happy to say that it’s not the only use I found for records. If you’re willing to live with changing side every four songs, it makes for an excellent audiovisual accompaniment to any candlelight dinner.


On Publishing: Harvard wants to enhance content with Wikipedia

You could see this as a positive move, Harvard crowd sourcing in order to produce richer content, or a negative one, Harvard outsourcing its research to Wikipedia. Let’s see.

You can read more about this on The Verge.

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