Monthly Archives: April 2015

“Rebellious shopping”

Keep shopping

Keep shopping

Pretty interesting opinion piece in the NYT today. In “Unequal, Yet Happy”, CalTech researchers Steven Quartz and Annette Asp make a case that unlike the past, today’s opportunities for individualistic expression/consumerism are partly responsible for keeping a lid on discontent re: the wage gap.

They start first by laying out some facts about “happiness inequality” that might surprise people:

All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.

Apparently, conspicuous consumption was about keeping up with the Joneses (but I think the Joneses always knew you couldn’t).

The pursuit of “the cool,” in our view, fundamentally altered the psychological motivations underlying our consumer choices. In conspicuous consumption, our emulation of higher-ups means we compete directly for status because we want what they have. But rebellious consumption changed the game, by making a product’s worth depend on how it embodied values that rejected a dominant group’s status.

To me this feels related to the Wal-Mart effect. While wealth concentrates at the top, a broader group of people have access to more “stuff” than ever before. I don’t think a broad group of people are actually really “cool” in the narrow sense that they are hipsters riding fixies up hills with great looking beards and skinny jeans.  I do think that millions of people can buy Martha Stewart at K-Mart and feel some degree of fashion, and a connection with the elite. And perhaps this leads to increased contentment.

Or maybe we actually brought Millenials up well, and they realize money and stuff is far from the end all.

Professor Maslow, your Apple Watch is ready

With reviewer embargoes lifted, pre-ordering started, and thousands of people trying on the Watch every minute, the debate about the need for these devices has become more pronounced. For me, I’m much more interested in whether it actually works.

Probably the best review out there is Nilay Patel’s from The Verge. It uses the day in the life method to show the watch at work across a variety of realistic scenarios. He’s very thoughtful, and they produced a video to go along with it…well worth it.

Of course there is the usual chatter out there about feeds and speeds — and battery life — versus various alternatives, but we all know improvement will not stop, and in five years, smartwatches will be thinner, more capable and possibly dominated by use cases we don’t even know about now. Refreshingly, gadget enthusiasts don’t worry about “need” because that’s totally besides the point. Annoyingly, they aren’t satisfied with simply saying they prefer something, instead insisting on telling you why your choices suck.

“Needs” — beyond, you know, Maslow’s physiological, safety and security categories — are  pretty damn subjective and relative, and I find it amusing that some people seem to be taking a strong stand with this watch.

Take the Incremental convenience provided by Watch: you no longer need to fish your phone out of your purse or pocket to get something done, or to triage a notification.

Yes, it’s only a couple of seconds saved from a task that you could do better on the phone. Yes, you are a pathetic dopamine addict who can’t possibly miss the latest cat video or selfie from someone who matters to you at the moment.

But so what? Did putting a piece of paper between each cheese slice hurt someone? What about the cordless phone? Or automatic buttons in cars? What about the $20,000 for an extra 100 horsepower in a car? Our culture is full of stuff that isn’t needed to survive..but is better.

Per above, my larger concern with the watch is user experience. I don’t mind buying toys, but I want them to actually work. If Apple can’t figure out how to solve the latency of loading data from the iPhone on which it’s dependent, then I’ll probably skip this version altogether. Is it non-optimized code, or does it have to do with the (presumably un-upgradeable) S1 chip?

“Shelley was so right: atheism is an absolute necessity in this world of ours. If we are to survive as individuals we can rely only on those resources provided by our human spirit—appeals to a deity or deities are only a form of pretence. We might as well howl at the moon.”

— William Boyd, Any Human Heart (2002)


Battery momentum

More on batteries…this today about Aluminum Ion batteries from Stanford (via the WSJ).  Lower energy density than Lithium Ion, but less volatile, and probably more abundant.  Worth a watch.

Tesla’s CTO speaks

Forget the glitz.  This talk by Tesla’s CTO JB Straubel is largely free of hype and pretty cool. My favorite slide from his presentation (both the video and the slides are posted):


How many people live in that patch in Nebraska?


Straubel makes the point that it wouldn’t be practical to build a giant square of PV, and that the square footage would be distributed widely on rooftops etc. Good distribution reasons include weather, transmission distance, national security, etc.

But if you’re an optimist about what could be achieved if a gun were put to our collective heads, this should be encouraging. Too bad it may come to that.